Unless you never watch TV, have no social media accounts, and don’t read magazines and newspapers, you’ve probably seen the acronyms IBS and IBD several times over the last few years. As awareness of these common conditions increases, so does the confusion about their differences.
If you’ve heard these terms used synonymously and have ever wondered what the difference is, you’re in luck. Here, Dr. Ayub Hussain, our board-certified gastroenterologist and hepatologist at Northside Gastroenterology Associates in Houston, Texas, takes a closer look at your gastrointestinal tract to set the record straight about these two different conditions.
How IBS and IBD are similar
In addition to their similar acronyms, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) share some other similarities.
Both can cause constipation and/or diarrhea, urgent bowel bowel movements, abdominal pain, and cramps. What’s even more confusing is that you can have both conditions at the same time, so your symptoms may overlap and be difficult to differentiate.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
IBS is a functional disorder, which means it’s not a disease, and it’s not a structural problem. The main distinguishing characteristics are chronic abdominal pain and either diarrhea, constipation, or both. If you have IBS, you may feel a sudden need to get to a bathroom, only to feel as if you can’t evacuate completely once you’re there.
The cause of IBS is still under research, but many experts believe it stems from an intestinal bacterial infection or food intolerances. Genetics also play a role, and there may be a link between depression and/or anxiety and IBS.
Dr. Hussain can typically diagnose IBS without any medical tests, but he may run some tests anyway to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms. This might include a colonoscopy and/or performing a biopsy procedure.
If you have IBS, you can relieve your symptoms and reduce the frequency and severity of your flare-ups by eating foods that don’t cause gas, chewing slowly, avoiding gluten, and eating more fiber and probiotics. Learning to control your pain and cramps with deep breathing exercises can also ease your discomfort.
If these don’t provide adequate relief. Dr. Hussain may prescribe medications to target your specific symptoms.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
IBD is a disease that causes chronic swelling in your intestines. It’s also an umbrella term that encompasses more specific conditions, namely ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
In addition to the symptoms IBD shares with IBS, IBD also triggers more widespread effects, such as:
- Joint pain
- Swollen eyes
- Rectal bleeding
- Weight loss
- Intestinal scarring
- Skin sensitivity
Most researchers believe that IBD stems from an immune disorder that doesn’t adequately stave off bacteria and toxins that enter the GI tract.
Diagnosing IBD requires definitive medical tests, typically including stool and blood tests, a colonoscopy and esophagogastroscopy, and possibly X-rays, CT scans, and biopsy.
Treating IBD often includes the use of corticosteroids to reduce the inflammation, as well as biologics, dietary changes, immunomodulators, and other drugs.
What to do if you think you have IBS or IBD
If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms we’ve discussed, it’s important to come in and see Dr. Hussein soon to get an accurate diagnosis and the right treatment. If you allow either to go unchecked, IBS can lead to severe hemorrhoids and dehydration, and IBD can lead to abscesses, intestinal blockage, malnutrition, and a perforated bowel.
Avoid these complications by scheduling an appointment using our online booking tool or calling either of our two Houston locations today.