What Is the Difference Between IBS and IBD?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may not be a topic you’d eagerly discuss with your doctor, but throughout the month of April, you’ve got a really great excuse. April is IBS Awareness Month! This medically recognized disorder affects 10 to 15 percent of adults, yet many remain unfamiliar with the specifics of this condition.

IBS is a functional disorder, meaning the problem lies in how the bowels function, not how they are structured. Also known as “spastic colon,” this condition is characterized by pain or discomfort in the abdomen, excess gas, diarrhea and constipation. IBS can be triggered by certain foods, medications and even emotional stress. Although IBS is an inconvenient and uncomfortable condition, it does not cause any long-term complications.

IBS is often confused with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a chronic condition with similar symptoms but several key differences. Like IBS, IBD can cause abdominal discomfort, diarrhea and constipation. Additional symptoms may include fever, anemia, unexplained weight loss and bloody stools, which are not characteristics of IBS.

IBS is considered a syndrome, or collection of symptoms, while IBD is classified as a disease. It is a chronic condition that causes inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, which can result in intestinal bleeding, ulceration and an increased risk of colon cancer.

Treatments for IBS and IBD vary considerably. IBS is often treated through lifestyle changes, such as dietary modifications and stress management. Certain medications may be helpful as well. Laxatives and anti-diarrheals can help treat constipation and diarrhea, while anti-anxiety medication can help relieve stress-related symptoms (Source: International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders).

Treatment for IBD requires a different approach. Anti-inflammatories and immune system suppressors are used to control inflammation. Antibiotics may be prescribed to reduce harmful intestinal bacteria and reduce drainage. Vitamin supplements, anti-diarrheals and laxatives may be added to help control symptoms. In severe cases where medication and lifestyle changes are not helpful, surgical removal of the colon or parts of the digestive tract may be necessary (Source: The Mayo Clinic).

If you are experiencing symptoms of IBS or IBD, schedule a visit with your doctor immediately. Both conditions can be debilitating, but they vary considerably in severity and method of treatment. Professional diagnosis is a crucial step in finding adequate relief for your symptoms. Let IBS Awareness Month encourage you to take charge of your digestive health, and schedule your visit today!