Understanding The Difference Between IBS and IBD

Despite sounding almost identical, having very similar acronyms, and both affecting your GI tract, the differences between IBS and IBD are actually pretty distinct. Right away, you can probably correctly guess that the main difference between the two diseases is inflammation, but in order to understand what sets these two GI conditions apart, we’ve got to take a closer look at how they function, what their symptoms are, and how they’re diagnosed and treated.

Here is everything you need to know about the difference between IBS and IBD.

What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

IBS, which is also known as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder characterized by symptoms affecting the gut and bowel. You may also hear IBS being referred to as a “functional disorder,” since it affects the regular functioning of the bowels, despite showing no physical signs of abnormality.

Because of this, IBS can be difficult to diagnose, except through a careful review of a patient’s symptoms, physical exams, and diagnostic testing. The best approach for diagnosis focuses on the signs and symptoms of the disease and works to rule out other GI conditions.

The main symptom of IBS is abdominal pain, especially abdominal pain associated with a change in bowel habits. This change can be characterized by frequency or consistency of stool. If the pain occurs along with diarrhea or constipation then you may have IBS. Abdominal bloating or distension are also sometimes present in patients with IBS.

Treatments for IBS can include diet changes, medication (both over the counter and prescription), and stress relief. Sometimes a physician will prescribe antidepressants for patients with IBS, as stress can cause symptoms to worsen.

What Is Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

Inflammatory Bowel Disease is actually an overarching term that is used to describe a few separate disorders. Unlike IBS, IBD disorders are characterized by inflammation of all or part of the digestive tract that causes structural and physical damage, which can be seen by examination. Inflammatory Bowel Diseases are usually more severe than IBS, and the symptoms can be much more dangerous. Two of the most common diseases categorized under IBD are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

Ulcerative Colitis

Ulcerative colitis is a bowel disease that causes long-lasting inflammation and sores (ulcers) in the inner lining of your large intestine. The symptoms of ulcerative colitis often develop over time, and they can sometimes be severe or even lead to fatal complications.

While there is no known cure for ulcerative colitis, treatments can in some cases be very effective. Physicians will often prescribe anti-inflammatory medications such as steroids to help quell inflammation. They may also prescribe immune system suppressors, antibiotics, pain relievers, and anti-diarrheal medications. Sometimes patients suffering from UC elect to undergo surgery to help treat their condition.

Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s disease is a bowel disease that causes inflammation of the digestive tract. The inflammation caused by Crohn’s disease often spreads deep into the layers of affected tissue and can cause severe and debilitating pain. Unlike Ulcerative Colitis, which affects only the bowel, Crohn’s can affect any part of the digestive tract including the mouth.

The exact cause of Crohn’s disease is unknown, but heredity and immune system malfunction likely contribute to the development of Crohn’s. Crohn’s is treated much the same way as ulcerative colitis, with anti-inflammatory drugs, antibiotics, immune system suppressors, pain relievers, and even sometimes vitamin B-12 shots. Surgery is also an option, and many patients with Crohn’s elect to change their diet and lifestyle to manage their symptoms.

More Information

If you or someone you know are experiencing any GI symptoms that are frequent and out of the ordinary, it is important that you see a colorectal specialist. To learn more information about Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Inflammatory Bowel Disease, or to book an appointment to speak with one of out colorectal specialists, contact us today.