IBD vs IBS?: What’s the difference & how would I know?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and irritable bowel disease (IBD) have similar symptoms. But IBD vs IBS differ in root causes and treatments.
·September 8th, 2021
It can be difficult to understand the differences between IBD vs IBS.Thought there are similarities, they differ in their root causes, unique symptoms, and treatment.
IBS generally includes an extremely sensitive digestive tract, and is itself not a single diagnosis. It is a mind-gut condition, so psychological stress can trigger flare-ups.
IBD is chronic inflammation of the digestive tract, which can impair the ability of many digestive organs to function properly
The treatment of IBS is multi-faceted and can include behavioral therapy, diet changes, medications, and complementary therapies such as acupuncture.IBD can be treated with medications or surgery.
A medical professional can help diagnose whether you’re experiencing IBS, IBD, or a different condition, and dietitians and behavioral therapists can help you manage quality of life.
IBD vs IBS – it can be confusing
Despite similar names and their place under a broader category of “digestive issues,” irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are not the same. There are some similarities – both are chronic conditions that can cause cramping, abdominal pain, and an urgency to use the restroom—but they differ greatly in root causes, unique symptoms, and treatment.
That’s why it’s really important to talk with a qualified medical practitioner instead of self-diagnosing your symptoms to determine if it is IBD vs IBS. However, if you suspect you have IBS or IBD, you can gather information to share with your physician, who can help you get the correct diagnosis you deserve.
What is IBS?
You might have heard IBS as another name, like “nervous stomach” or “spastic colon.” IBS is one of the most common disorders diagnosed by gastroenterologists. As many as 15 percent of adults in the United States are affected by IBS, with women more likely to be diagnosed than men.
Symptoms of IBS
A lot of people who have these ailments may not realize they have what is medically known as irritable bowel syndrome. People with IBS typically have an extremely sensitive digestive tract, which leads to excessive gas, abdominal pain, and/or cramping. There also may be changes to the way the bowel muscles function, so someone with IBS may experience constipation, diarrhea, and/or constipation.
Symptoms may appear once, then disappear forever, or they may come and go over weeks, years, or a lifetime. Symptoms of IBS often begin in late adolescence or early adulthood, and are often noted during times of emotional distress. The link between the brain and the body is a strong one, and intense psychological feelings, like stress or anxiety, can sometimes manifest in physical ways.
As many as 90 percent of people with IBS also have an associated mental health issue, like anxiety or depression. In addition to stressful or difficult life events, actors that can increase a person’s chance of having IBS include genetic history (a family member with IBS) and/or infections of the digestive tract.
Diagnosis of IBS
There is no one specific diagnostic test for IBS. To make a diagnosis, a primary care provider or gastroenterologist will evaluate symptoms, take a medical history, and perform a physical exam. Sometimes, additional tests are required to rule out other, more serious conditions; these tests might include blood work, a stool test, or a colonoscopy.
IBS is not a singular diagnosis. In fact, researchers have identified three different types of IBS. To make a clear diagnosis, a healthcare professional needs to know what abnormal gastrointestinal symptoms a person is experiencing, including the type and frequency of bowel movements. This information can help classify an IBS diagnosis into the correct category:
IBS with constipation (IBS-C): Hard, lumpy stools; straining when trying to pass a bowel movement; feeling like you need to use the restroom, but can’t.
IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D): Loose, watery stools; an urgent need to go.
IBS with mixed bowel habits (IBS-M): A mixture of hard and lumpy stools.
Treatment of IBS
Treating IBS often requires a multi-faceted approach. Experts say there are many ways a person can manage IBS symptoms, including:
Reducing daily intake of fatty foods or caffeinated beverages, which stimulate the colon
Identifying and reducing foods that cause bloating and abdominal discomfort (these vary from person to person, but may include dairy, sugary drinks, candy, and processed foods). A dietitian or nutritionist can be especially helpful here.
Medications, such as muscle relaxants to prevent intestinal cramping, laxatives and antidiarrheal medications to control bowel movements, antibiotics to clear infections or recalibrate gut flora, or low-dose antidepressants to fortify your body against emotional stress.
Psychotherapy, to manage the emotions that may trigger symptoms.
Alternative therapies, such as acupuncture or therapeutic massage. Homeopathy and behavioral therapy are also useful.
What is IBD?
An estimated 3.1 million adults in the United States have been diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD. IBD is a type of chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. This inflammation can impair the ability of the affected organs (like the stomach, small intestine, or colon) to function properly.
Other types of IBD include Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Ulcerative colitis is a chronic, inflammatory bowel disease that impacts the colon while Crohn’s disease is chronic inflammation that can occur anywhere along the whole digestive tract.
Symptoms of IBD
The symptoms of IBD can range from mild to severe, but may include abdominal cramping, urgent bowel movements, diarrhea, a sensation that the colon is never quite empty after a bowel movement, and/or weight loss. Some may also experience sores, known as ulcers, in the colon and rectum. In some cases, these ulcers may begin to bleed, which can result in bloody stools.
According to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, symptoms often begin at a young age, and most people with IBD are diagnosed before the age of 35. It’s not entirely understood what causes IBD, but there is strong evidence to suggest there is a genetic component that causes an abnormal immune system response to environmental factors (or “triggers”).
In the case of IBD, this immune response seems to inflame the intestinal tract to fight off what it thinks is a virus, bacterial infection, or fungus—even when one isn’t present.
Diagnosis of IBD
Like IBS, a diagnosis often comes by examining a person’s symptoms and ruling out other possible causes. A primary care provider or gastroenterologist may order certain tests, like blood work or stool studies. A colonoscopy or endoscopy may also be ordered to view inflammation and/or take a small sample of tissue (or “biopsy”) for analysis.
Treatment of IBD
IBD can be treated, but not cured, through a variety of approaches. The type of treatment required will depend greatly on where the inflammation is located in the gastrointestinal tract, the severity of the inflammation, and any additional medical conditions a person has. Treatment strategies for IBD may include:
Medications to decrease inflammation (such as corticosteroids) or modify the way the immune system responds (immunomodulators).
Surgery to remove part or all of the colon and rectum.
The bottom line on IBD vs IBS
Because treatment strategies for IBD vs IBS are so different, it’s important to get a correct diagnosis from a qualified medical professional. Complementary and integrative healthcare providers can also help you treat the other lifestyle related symptoms of IBD vs IBS. Check out Bright Belly’s list of complementary providers who can meet your needs.