Do You Know If Your Symptoms Are Due to IBS or IBD?
Updated: Jun 15, 2022
Know the difference between IBS and IBD and what to do about it.
Do you know what is the difference between Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)? Do you know that IBS and IBD are two different disorders that affect your gastrointestinal tract? Do you even know that both can be affected by stress? And how do you know if you have IBS or IBD? Let’s look at their symptoms, triggers, diagnosis, and treatment of both of them.
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What is IBS?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a syndrome rather than a disease — a combination of symptoms for which no underlying cause can be identified. IBS is considered a functional gastrointestinal disorder, since it is a disorder between the brain and the gut interactions, as explained by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. IBS is more common in women than men, as well as among young people and those of Middle Eastern descent, and affects about 12 percent of people in the U.S.
IBS is classified into one of four types depending on which is the major symptom: diarrhea-predominant (IBS-D), constipation-predominant (IBS-C), and mixed type (IBS-M). Besides these types, some people also experience painless diarrhea while others have postinfectious IBS. And people with IBS also have days with normal bowel movements.
The symptoms of IBS vary by individual. People can present symptoms like stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhea and constipation. These symptoms are painful and can be aggravated by stress and an unhealthy diet. But there are ways you can alleviate them.
There is no specific test to diagnose IBS. However, lab tests, imaging, and endoscopy (a study to look inside your gastrointestinal tract) can be ordered to rule out other diagnoses. IBS does not cause changes in the tissue of your gastrointestinal tract. Therefore, once other conditions have been taken out of the equation, the next step is to ask you some very specific questions about the frequency of bowel movements, presence of pain, and consistency of stools. With your responses, the doctor will classify the type of IBS that you have and will advise you about the best treatment option.
There is no cure for IBS, only treatment to control the symptoms. Your treatment will vary depending on the type of IBS that you have. It will consist of changing your lifestyle habits like diet, exercise, reducing stress, and medications.
What is IBD?
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a group of inflammatory bowel diseases that include Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. The parts of the body affected by IBD are in the gastrointestinal tract (digestive system). This includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine or colon, rectum, and anus.
The cause is unknown, although some theories point to be related to an abnormal response from the immune system. However, something that is known is that stress and a non-healthy diet can aggravate the severity of the symptoms.
The Symptoms of IBD include abdominal cramps and pain, blood in stool, diarrhea, fever, loss of appetite, rectal bleeding, weight loss, and fatigue.
Like many other diseases, people might be at a higher risk of suffering from IBD if they have a parent, child, or sibling with Chron’s disease or Ulcerative colitis. Also, the risk increases when you smoke, eat certain foods, or with the inappropriate use of Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) like naproxen. Antibiotics can increase the risk too.
The diagnosis is through lab tests, imaging procedures, and endoscopy (a procedure to look inside). IBD has no cure. Once it is diagnosed, the treatment will consist of medications, lifestyle changes (healthy diet, quitting smoking, exercise, and stress management), and in some cases, surgery.
As you see, IBD is not the same as IBS. Chron’s and Colitis Foundation of America is an excellent resource for those who want more detailed information about IBD.
How do you know if you have IBS or IBD?
The answer is simple. You won’t be able to tell if you have IBS or IBD. The symptoms are similar and to diagnose you, several tests have to be done first. The most important is the endoscopic procedure since it will allow the doctor to look inside and visually identify if there are areas of tissue damage, and he/she will take a biopsy (a small piece of tissue) to send to the lab for further examination under a microscope. That is why it is so important to be seen by a healthcare provider when you start to experience symptoms.
What should you do?
In case you are suffering from the common symptoms of IBS or IBD, go to your primary care provider. Get checked to see if that is the problem. Treating your condition will give you a better quality of life and can prevent potential complications like anemia, dehydration, ulcers, infections, etc.
Once you are diagnosed, start a diary to keep track of the specific foods that trigger your symptoms. As a general rule, you should be better if you follow a low-residue diet (this is a diet low in fiber to minimize the formation of stools, therefore, it limits foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain). Avoid juices and sugary drinks, this will decrease your watery stools. And try to eat more frequently but serve smaller portions. There are many books available with low fiber (low residue) recipes to help you add variety, flavor, and health. Or, you can find the services of a dietitian to help you create a healthy diet plan. They are trained professionals credentialed in food and nutrition. Adding additional healthy lifestyles, like exercising and avoiding smoking and drinking alcohol, will be beneficial, too.
There's no cure at the moment for IBS or IBD, but it's important to get the correct diagnosis and start treatment as soon as possible. Their names are similar, their symptoms are similar, and even the treatment is similar, but despite that, they are not the same. So, it is very important to get diagnosed and start your treatment as soon as possible. Hopefully, with greater awareness, better treatments will be found soon.
And as always, follow a healthy lifestyle and come back for the next topic.
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