Take Sickness Cue From Parents
(HealthScoutNews) -- The behavioral patterns of those with irritable
bowel syndrome (IBS) can color their children's experiences of
their own illnesses.
That's the conclusion of recent research that compared three
years of school absences and found the children of IBS parents
missed significantly more school days than other children -- 11.2
days per academic year versus 7.6 days.
The study is part of a larger body of ongoing research looking
at how parents' reactions to IBS influence children's perceptions
"We're looking at how parents teach their children to respond
to illness, and whether the children generally are sicker than
children of parents without this problem," explains Rona
Levy, a professor of social work at the University of Washington
and the author of the study, which was presented recently at a
meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology.
IBS causes chronic gastrointestinal problems ranging from constipation
to diarrhea, as well as abdominal pain, gas and bloating. The
condition is estimated to affect about 4.7 million people, most
of them women.
The causes of the condition are not known, but experts believe
there is a significant psychological factor at play, with reactions
to stress or depression manifesting themselves in the gut more
severely than normal.
Although Levy thinks there is probably a genetic factor that
determines who gets IBS, she says behavioral responses that are
"socially learned" may determine who suffers most from
">"We're building a case where heredity is a component of
IBS," she says. "But what children learn from their
parents is a much bigger risk factor for the extent people suffer
from this disease, and many other chronic diseases."
Such "learned" behavior is fostered in children through
the reactions - - and actions - - of their parents to various
situations, says Levy.
"We've all seen a child fall down, and various responses
among parents," she explains. "Some will brush the kid
off, reassure them that they're fine and move on. Others will
dwell more seriously on the event, asking the child where it hurts
and perhaps making a much bigger deal out of the situation."
"That's a snapshot example of how parents differ in the
ways they teach their children to respond to pain," she says.
Such reactions can show up later in life in the form of IBS,
adds Levy, when something like a twinge in the gut that many might
notice but ignore sends others to the doctor.
"I think a big factor in why some go in one direction and
why some go in another is how we learn to respond to things when
we're young," she says.
Dr. Douglas Drossman, an IBS expert and co-director of the University
of North Carolina Center for Functional GI Disorders, says the
role of family behavioral patterns is recognized as an important
factor in IBS.
"The patients with the more severe symptoms seem to come
from families where there was a focus on going to the doctor and
getting medication when the child got sick, rather than addressing
what might be the stressors that are playing a role," he
"It's not that the stress is believed to entirely cause
the condition," he adds. "But the family may reinforce
the severity of the symptoms."
Other contributing factors that are believed to play a role in
IBS include hormonal fluctuations, dietary issues and infection
in the bowel.
In addition, preliminary research on brain scans indicates certain
brain functions that respond to pain may be altered in people
"Pain signals are sent to the brain, but typically, the
brain can naturally reduce those signals," explains Drossman.
"But that ability to turn down such signals may be impaired
in people with IBS, and that might be correlated with levels of
Treatment for IBS currently involves a combination of physical
and mental therapies, says Drossman.
"In milder cases, sometimes just keeping a diary of daily
events and diet, and looking at what the triggers are can help.
It could be eating a large fatty meal, drinking lots of soda,
stress factors," he says.
In more serious cases, medications treat intestinal symptoms
and antidepressants are often prescribed.
The American College of Gastroenterology reports that people
with IBS make an estimated 3.5 million physician visits, receive
2.2 million drug prescriptions, and undergo 35,000 hospitalizations
in the United States each year.
What To Do
Visit the American College of Gastroenterology for more information
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Self Help Group for the latest
news and research on IBS.
Reference Source 101