Abdominal pain, diarrhea, and general malaise are all unpleasant and worrisome symptoms associated with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). However, these two conditions are not the same, and it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis to get effective treatment.

The two are often confused and it can be difficult to make the distinction; however, the conditions have different causes, which means they are treated differently. Physicians use lab work, colonoscopy, and imaging to reach a diagnosis. From there, treatment options vary based on the diagnosis and severity.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

IBD is a structural disease, so symptoms are caused by physical damage to the bowel like chronic inflammation or ulcers.

Patients with IBD will likely notice blood mixed into the stool or a stool that looks black. See a doctor right away if this occurs because blood in the stool is never normal.

IBD patients can also have fever or inflammation in their joints or eyes and develop skin rashes.

For IBD, there are a number of medications available. Some IBD patients also benefit from surgery if medications don’t work or they develop a complication, like scarring from ulcers or a stricture in the bowel. Typically, these surgeries are done laparoscopically, which means smaller incisions and an easier recovery.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

IBS is a functional disease, meaning it is not caused by physical damage. It can be linked to issues like colon sensitivity, stress, anxiety, and depression.

IBS patients predominantly experience diarrhea or constipation or diarrhea alternating with constipation, but they will not have blood in their stool. They may also feel bloated or gassy, and their pain typically feels like cramping in the lower abdomen.

There are medications approved specifically for IBS, and some patients benefit from anti-anxiety medication or antidepressants, medications that treat their symptoms, dietary modifications, and therapy to identify and challenge negative thinking patterns and behaviors which may be causing difficulties

Bottom line, it’s important to get proper treatment for the symptoms of IBD and IBS. These conditions typically happen when patients are younger and can have a major impact on quality of life if not treated appropriately and in a timely manner. We help patients manage their condition, so their symptoms don’t cause them to miss out on the things they want to do. A disease should not control your life.

Leonard Baidoo, MD is a gastroenterologist at Regional One Health and world-renowned leader in the treatment of IBD, which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. For an appointment, call 901.545.6969.