Objectives: Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) runs in families. The aims of this study were (i) to exclude biased perception by a mother with irritable bowel as the explanation for increased gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms in their children, (ii) to determine whether non-GI as well as GI symptoms run in families, and (iii) to determine whether parent IBS status and solicitous responses to illness exert independent effects on children's symptom reports, medical clinic visits, and school absences.
Methods: Two hundred and eight mothers with irritable bowel and their 296 children (cases: average age 11.9 yr; 48.6% male) and 241 nonirritable bowel mothers and their 335 children (controls: 11.8 yr; 49.0% male) were interviewed. Other factors assessed were stress, mother's and child's psychological symptoms, child's perceived competence, pain coping style, age, and sex. Children were interviewed apart from their parents.
Results: Case children independently reported more frequent stomach aches (F(591) = 9.22; p= 0.0025) and non-GI symptoms (F(562) = 21.03; p < 0.001) than control children. Case children also had more school absences (F(625) = 26.53; p < 0.0001), physician visits for GI symptoms (F(602) = 8.09; p= 0.005), and non-GI clinic visits (F(602) = 27.92; p < 0.001) than control children. Children whose mothers made solicitous responses to illness complaints independently reported more severe stomach aches (F(590) = 11.42; p < 0.001), and they also had more school absences for stomach aches (F(625) = 5.33; p < 0.05), but solicitous behavior did not significantly impact non-GI symptom reporting, clinic visits, or school absences. Differences between cases and controls remained significant after adjusting for potential moderators.
Conclusions: (i) Frequent GI complaints in children whose mothers have irritable bowel are not explained by the mother's biased perceptions; (ii) children of mothers with irritable bowel have more non-GI as well as GI symptoms, disability days, and clinical visits; (iii) and parent IBS status and solicitous responses to illness have independent effects on the child's symptom complaints.