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What is the Difference Between IBS and IBD?

Rachel Morrell

Man suffering with ibs

Often the terms irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and irritable bowel disease (IBD) are used interchangeably, but these two conditions are distinct from one another.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

IBS is a common condition that affects 25 percent of Americans and up to 15 percent of the world’s population. Some of the most common symptoms of IBS include abdominal pain, urgent bowel movements, cramps, constipation and diarrhea. IBS can also produce a sensation of incomplete evacuation.

Because IBS has no identifiable cause, it is not classified as a disease but as a functional disorder. It is not life-threatening and does not increase the likelihood of developing colon cancer. However, IBS symptoms are the most common reason people call a gastroenterologist.

Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD)

IBD is characterized by inflammation of the intestines, whereas IBS is non-inflammatory. Common symptoms of IBD include intestinal scarring, rectal bleeding, malnutrition, weight loss, fatigue, joint discomfort and eye inflammation. People with IBD may experience symptoms of IBS, and it is possible to be diagnosed with both conditions.

There are several types of IBD including ulcerative colitis, indeterminate colitis and Crohn’s disease. Unlike IBS, IBD can increase risk for developing colon cancer. Complications due to colitis or Crohn’s disease can be quite serious and require hospitalization and long-term treatment.

Knowing the Difference Between IBS and IBD

If you are suffering from IBS or IBD, you probably won’t know which condition you have unless you visit a gastroenterologist. Both conditions require medical diagnosis and ongoing treatment. Because IBD is accompanied by inflammation, it has more serious side effects and health consequences like malnutrition and weight loss.

Another characteristic that separates IBS and IBD is stool volume. IBS patients usually pass stools that are within reasonable limits, but IBD patients tend to have more frequent diarrhea, which is a severe health concern. IBD patients also exhibit shorter colonic transit time and may feel that they always have to be close to a restroom.

How to Manage IBS and IBD

Even though IBS has no known cause, it seems to be aggravated by stress. If you suffer from IBS, you may want to try various methods of stress management like exercise, meditation, deep breathing, journaling, yoga, counseling or therapy.

IBD does not seem to have any association with stress, so the best way to manage the condition is to avoid foods that may cause intestinal inflammation. These foods include alcohol, dairy, caffeine, spicy food and greasy food. You will also want to drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration and take a daily multivitamin.

If you are experiencing symptoms of IBS or IBD, it’s time to see a gastroenterologist for a complete evaluation. You don’t need to feel uncomfortable or ashamed to discuss your symptoms. Many patients respond well to anti-spasmodic medication and lifestyle changes, so make an appointment with a board-certified GI specialist in your area.

Related Articles:

Find a Gastroenterologist
IBD and Colon Cancer: What’s the Connection?
Family History Plays a Large Role in IBD



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