So, what is the difference?

Honestly…It’s like comparing apples to oranges!

IBS and IBD are constantly being compared and confused with each other. There is a BIG difference. IBS stands for Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and IBD stands for Inflammatory Bowel Disease. One of the biggest distinctions is that IBS is a syndrome (a group of symptoms), whereas IBD is a disease.

IBS is considered a functional disorder where the GI tract looks normal but does not function normally. People with IBS experience increased contractions in the colon or rectum. It does not cause inflammation nor does is cause permanent intestinal damage, but it is irritating and can negatively affect one’s quality of life.

IBD is a disease where the immune system attacks intestinal tissue. The intestines become chronically inflamed and damaged, and this can lead to blood in the stool. Imaging (such as a colonoscopy) of patients with IBD will show abnormalities, whereas IBS patients’ imaging will be normal. The two main types of IBD are Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease.

The symptoms of each condition are very similar, which understandably leads to confusion and oftentimes misdiagnosis.  Symptoms of IBS are usually less severe and include gas, bloating, abdominal pain (mainly cramping), and alternating diarrhea and constipation. The cramping is usually relieved with a bowel movement. Symptoms of IBD are more severe and include abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, feeling of fullness, weight loss, and bloody stool. People who suffer from IBD can become nutrient deficient because of the intestines’ inability to absorb nutrients. IBD leads to intestinal damage and potentially more severe conditions such as colon cancer.

Both conditions are idiopathic meaning they have unknown causes. Not knowing the cause makes them difficult to treat, but there are successful treatments being incorporated for patients with either condition.

IBS can more or less be treated by increasing fiber intake and possibly taking a laxative to stimulate a healthy, regular bowel movement. Other diet changes help a great deal. Avoid contraction stimulating foods such as caffeine, avoid foods that are difficult to digest (dairy, fats, etc), and again, increase fiber consumption.

IBD is mainly treated with medication. Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease are treated with different conditions which vary with each person’s severity.

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