When Pepto Bismol sang “Nausea, heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach, diarrhea,” were they talking about IBD or IBS? There is definitely a correct answer, and knowing which could be the difference in feeling relief or not.
What Are Their Similarities?
First, let’s talk about the similarities because there are some. Both inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have an obvious thing in common—the bowels—and some of the symptoms they share have to do with this area. These include constipation, stomach pain, bloating, or urgent bowel movements. Both IBD and IBS are commonly diagnosed in young people and seem to be associated with family history.
For two similarly-named conditions, that is about the extent of their similarities.
The Differences Are What Matters
IBD and IBS are fundamentally different conditions even though their names are commonly confused. IBD is an inflammatory disease, which means that it causes chronic swelling and ulcers in the lining of the intestines. It is considered a true disease and comes in the form of diseases you may recognize like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. In addition to the symptoms IBD has in common with IBS, it can also cause joint or eye pain from inflammation, rectal bleeding, bloody or black stool, and progressively worsening symptoms.
IBS is called a “functional disorder,” which means that it isn’t classified as a true disease and has no determinable cause. Research has shown that stress plays a role in worsening symptoms of IBS. Although the symptoms of IBS (abdominal cramping, constipation or diarrhea, stomach pain) are very real, it will not show up in any form of clinical testing and is frequently diagnosed through process-of-elimination.
IBD is more well-understood by doctors since there are physical signs in the body. Often, medications are prescribed to patients with IBD to reduce and prevent inflammation, which can cause long-term damage to the intestines. In cases where there is significant damage to the digestive tract, surgery may be required. People with IBD are more prone to get colorectal cancer, so regular screenings are important.
There are some medications that may be prescribed for IBS, however prescriptions are less common for this disorder and are generally given to treat symptoms and not the disorder itself. People with IBS generally try to control the symptoms by adjusting their diets. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to dietary needs of IBS patients, so it is important to discuss this with your doctor and find a plan that works for your specific needs. Because IBS is exacerbated by stress, finding ways to reduce stress in your life can be an important step. Things like yoga, exercise, or even counseling may be helpful in curbing the effects of stress on your IBS symptoms.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above and are wondering if you may have IBD or IBS, or if you have been diagnosed and are wondering what your next steps should be, make an appointment today. Our doctors at Associates in Digestive Health can help evaluate your situation and determine the best path forward.