It’s pretty easy to get confused between IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). Many times, these terms seem to be used interchangeably. They sound like they have similar symptoms and sometimes even similar treatments. Making the confusion worse is that you can have IBD and IBS at the same time. What’s the difference? And how does each one affect you?
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
The term “IBD” is actually an umbrella term for different diseases. It pretty much means just what it says: It refers to any disease that causes inflammation of the bowels. It is a structural disease—physical damage to your bowel causes your symptoms. The term IBD refers to both – Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, which are considered autoimmune conditions. IBD is tied to genetics–you inherit a tendency toward developing them in your lifetime. In many patients with IBD, symptoms can include diarrhea, bloating, gas, chronic abdominal pain, bloody or mucus-filled stool, and/or constipation. Other problems that happen with IBD (which don’t usually occur with IBS) may include anemia, fever, and weight loss. They can also be associated with extraintestinal manifestations such as rash, eye problems and arthritis.
Screening methods such as endoscopy can detect physical bowel inflammation but aren’t always conclusive on which type of IBD is present. IBD when severe can be destructive and can cause permanent bowel damage, however mild disease can cause more subtle and chronic symptoms.. Having IBD which affects the colon can also increase the risk for colon cancer depending on how long it has been present. If you are suffering with symptoms concerning for IBD, it is important to get a proper medical diagnosis to improve symptoms as well as long term outcomes. There are many medications now available to treat IBD and many more in the pipeline as much active research continues to be done.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
IBS, or irritable bowel syndrome, is a syndrome, which means a group of symptoms (cramping, abdominal pain, gas, bloating, diarrhea, and/or constipation) that frequently appear together. It is a functional disease, meaning that it’s all about how your bowels are contracting and how quickly or slowly the contents of your large intestine move. Tests such as endoscopy won’t show any physical damage. Irritable Bowel Syndrome is diagnosed clinically, via the Rome criteria in which patients have abdominal pain associated with bowel changes over a period of at least 3-6 months without any alarm symptoms. IBS also seems to be seen after infectious enteritis (food poisoning), as the gut microbiome is affected. People can experience chronic GI symptoms lasting after the infection has cleared which is eventually classified as IBS.
There are many treatment options now for IBS. This includes not only dietary modifications and avoiding specific food triggers as well as over the counter supplements such as fiber. Today we also have many prescription medications which are helpful in alleviating the symptoms of IBS. It is best to seek medical attention if the over the counter options don’t work, as IBS can impact quality of life if symptoms are severe.
IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) is a term that covers a variety of diseases that cause inflammation of the bowels. It’s important to find out which specific disease is causing your inflammation to get the best treatment. IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) is a group of symptoms that occur together and that make bowel movements unpredictable. This is a functional disorder and no structural damage to the gut is seen. There are many treatments you can try to help your bowels move more regularly and predictably. Both of these conditions can be treated, so see your doctor to determine a treatment plan for you.