Prescription Drugs, Your Health & Wellness

IBS or IBD? Similar but Different

IBS or IBD picture of woman with stomach pains

When it comes to the world of gastrointestinal diseases, you may hear a lot of acronyms such as IBD and IBS. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a broad term that refers to chronic swelling (inflammation) of the intestines. It’s often confused with the non-inflammatory condition irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Although similar in name symptoms, they have distinct differences.

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?

IBS is extremely common. The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders estimates that it affects up to 15 percent of the American population. IBS symptoms are also the most common reason patients seek out a gastroenterologist.

Most people with IBS will never develop IBD. Still, a person who has been diagnosed with IBD may display IBS-like symptoms. You can have both conditions at the same time, and both are considered chronic (ongoing) conditions.

IBD comes in the form of:

  • Crohn’s disease
  • ulcerative colitis
  • indeterminate colitis

What causes IBS?

Unlike IBD, IBS isn’t classified as a true disease. Instead it’s known as a “functional disorder.” This means that the symptoms don’t have an identifiable cause. Contrary to popular belief, IBS isn’t a psychological condition. IBS has physical symptoms, but there is no known cause.

The basic cause of IBS is unknown, but researchers have found that the colon muscle in people with IBS contracts more readily than in people without IBS. A number of factors can “trigger” IBS, including certain foods, medicines, and emotional stress. Since the inflammation of IBD is absent in people with IBS, it’s difficult for researchers to understand the precise causes of the latter condition. One notable difference is that IBS is almost always exacerbated by stress. Stress reduction techniques may help. Consider trying:

  • meditation
  • exercise
  • yoga
  • talk therapy

What are the symptoms of IBS and IBD?

People with IBS show no clinical signs of a disease and often have normal test results. Although both conditions can occur in anyone at any age, it seems to run in families.

IBS is characterized by a combination of:Compare Your Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Copay to WellRx pricing

  • abdominal pain
  • cramps
  • constipation
  • diarrhea

IBD can cause the same symptoms, and additionally:

  • eye discomfort
  • extreme fatigue
  • joint pain
  • rectal bleeding

Both can cause urgent bowel movements.

Treatment Options

If you suspect you have IBS or IBD, it is important to see your health care provider. Your provider should review your medical history and perform a physical examination. To diagnose IBD, one or more of the following tests might be ordered

  • stool samples
  • blood tests
  • colonoscopy with biopsies
  • CT scanning

IBS may be treated with certain medications such as intestinal antispasmodics, like hyoscyamine (Levsin) or dicyclomine HCL (Bentyl), or with an anticholinergic and barbiturate combination (Donnatal).

Dietary and lifestyle changes seem to help the most. People with IBS should avoid aggravating their condition with fried and fatty foods and caffeinated or alcoholic beverages.

IBS and IBD may seem to share similar symptoms, but these are two different conditions with very different treatment requirements. A gastroenterologist can help determine your specific condition and offer the best treatment plan and resources to help you manage symptoms.


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