What is the Difference between IBS and IBD?

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Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are common gastrointestinal diseases that are sometimes confused. While their names sound similar and they share certain symptoms, they have different causes and treatments.

Understanding IBS

IBS is very common, affecting an estimated 30 million people in the U.S. It’s as a functional disease, which means the condition has a defined set of symptoms but tests don’t reveal a physical cause for them. These symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Cramps
  • Constipation

Your doctor may use a standard called the “Rome criteria” to determine if you have IBS. According to this standard, you’re considered to have IBS if you have stomach pain at least one day each week for the prior three months and the pain meets at least two of these conditions:

  • It’s associated with a bowel movement.
  • After it begins, bowel movements are more frequent or less frequent.
  • After it begins there’s a difference in the appearance of stools.

Each person responds differently to attempts to manage IBS. However, your doctor may encourage you to try these lifestyle changes:

  • Eliminating lactose from your diet
  • Identifying and eliminating foods that cause you gas or bloating
  • Getting more fiber
  • Avoiding caffeine
  • Avoiding foods that contain FODMAPs — a kind of sugar in certain fruits, vegetables, bread, and dairy product
  • Using stress management techniques (relaxation training, acupuncture, etc.)

Your doctor may also provide medications for treating diarrhea and constipation. The psychological impact of having IBS and worrying about when it will flare up should be addressed as well. Counseling and support groups can help.

Understanding IBD

IBD is a structural disease. This means that its symptoms are caused by physical damage in the digestive system. Tests such as a biopsy, X-ray or endoscopy show chronic inflammation or ulcers in the gut. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are the two main types of IBD.

IBD can have the same symptoms as IBS, but may also cause:

  • Rectal bleeding
  • Weight loss
  • Intestinal scarring
  • Malnutrition
  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain
  • Eye inflammation

Doctors diagnose IBD by looking for digestive system damage using:

  • Blood and stool tests
  • Imaging tests such as a colonoscopy
  • CT (computed tomography) scans

IBD is typically treated with drugs that help control the inflammation that’s causing symptoms. In some cases, surgery is required to repair damage to the digestive system. In addition, IBD increases the risk of colorectal cancer, so more frequent screening may be recommended.

Irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease are conditions that can be treated. The key is talking with your doctor to get an accurate diagnosis so that the right treatment plan can be developed.

Gastrointestinal specialists at Baptist Health have a deep understanding when it comes to treating people with a wide range of diseases and disorders of the esophagus, stomach, gallbladder, liver, pancreas, small intestine, and colon. As part of your care, our GI specialists work closely with other specialists and your primary care provider to determine the most appropriate treatment for your individual needs.