BIDMC Contributor

APRIL 01, 2020

A doctor inspects a patietnt's stomach

Is it IBS or IBD? Learn the Differences Between These Two Digestive Diseases

When stomach pain strikes, many of us take to the internet for clues about what’s going on. But the possible causes you read about might be confusing.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) might sound the same, but they’re two very different conditions. Getting an accurate diagnosis and treatment is essential in managing both conditions. Anthony Lembo, MD, Director of the IBS and Motility Center Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and an expert on IBS, shares an overview of both conditions.

Q. What are the symptoms of IBS and IBD?

Both are digestive conditions and affect the esophagus, stomach and intestines. IBS is a chronic syndrome made up of a group of symptoms. IBD, on the other hand, refers to inflammation or chronic swelling of the intestines.

IBS symptoms include chronic abdominal pain and changes in bowel habits—diarrhea and constipation, or alternating between both. Symptoms can vary person to person and can often change over time, making it difficult to manage.

IBS does not develop into IBD or cause permanent harm in your intestines, such as intestinal bleeding, other intestinal diseases or cancer. But it can significantly affect your quality of life. Some have reported they would be willing to give up their essential pleasures—caffeine, use of cell phone and the internet and even sex — to be free of IBS symptoms.

Common forms of IBD include Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Both cause chronic inflammation in the GI tract. These conditions can cause rectal bleeding and diarrhea, bloating, abdominal cramping, pain, reduced appetite, unintended weight loss and fatigue.

Q. Who is at risk for IBS or IBD?

IBS affects between 25 and 45 million people in the United States. It is more common in women and can affect all ages including children, but is most common in young adults.

Meanwhile, about 1.6 million Americans have been diagnosed with IBD. This chronic disease affects both genders equally and is more common among Caucasians.

Q. What are the causes of IBS and IBD?

Researchers are still working to understand the exact causes. Some people develop IBS after a GI infection. Other potential causes include diet, environmental or psychological factors, such as stress, and frequent use of antibiotics.

With IBD, stress may worsen the condition and studies suggested that your genes, immune system and environmental factors may also play a role. Those with IBD are known to have an overactive immune system, which causes inflammation in the GI tract.

Q. How are IBS and IBD treated?

Several medications are available and many promising drugs are under study as well. Doctors also recommend those with IBS communicate openly with to their caregivers about ongoing GI symptoms.

Medication to manage and prevent IBD flare-ups include biologics, which are medication therapies made from living organisms that help restore the body’s ability to fight the disease.

Surgery may be necessary when medications no longer control the symptoms of IBD. Surgical treatment removes the affected portion of the bowel, but occasionally a complete removal of the colon or rectum is considered.

Learn more about IBS and IBD at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
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