What Is the Difference Between Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)?

July 11, 2023

Despite the similar abbreviations and some shared symptoms, these two conditions have quite a few differences. Let’s examine the causes, symptoms, and treatments for IBS and IBD.

What is IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is one of the most common conditions seen by medical providers. IBS can cause abdominal cramping, pain, and bloating. It also causes changes to your bowel movements, which can lead to diarrhea (IBS-D), constipation (IBS-C), or a mix of both (IBS-M).


The American College of Gastroenterology offers a 1-minute online screening test to help you and your doctor determine if you might have IBS.


What causes IBS?


IBS is not well understood, but we do know that many different factors such as eating certain foods, a high stress level, or a family history of IBS can sometimes explain symptoms. During endoscopies, the stomach and intestines appear normal. IBS does not lead to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and it does not mean you are more likely to get colon cancer. 


How is IBS treated?


Patients with IBS can be treated with dietary changes, probiotics, or stress management techniques. Doctors may also prescribe medications to help with constipation, diarrhea, or cramping.


What is IBD?


Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a general term for any condition that causes swelling in the intestines. There are two main types of IBD: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC).


Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the GI (gastrointestinal) tract, and when the GI tract becomes inflamed, patients may have abdominal cramps, diarrhea, constipation, or rectal bleeding.


In ulcerative colitis there is swelling and ulcers (sores) in the lining of the large intestine (colon) and rectum. Common symptoms include bloody diarrhea or stool and abdominal pain.


How is IBD treated?


Dietary changes may help ease symptoms of IBD. For Crone’s, many different medications can be prescribed, and sometimes surgery is necessary to repair or remove parts of the intestine. For ulcerative colitis, anti-inflammatories are often prescribed, and in some cases surgery is required to remove the colon.

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