IBS v. IBD: the great intestinal debate
There is no worse feeling than someone telling you that they know what you are going through because they have IBS. Sadly, not many people realize that there is a significant difference between IBS and IBD. I know this firsthand because I have IBS while Dan has IBD. Below I explain the two illnesses and the differences between the two.
IBS: Irritable Bowel Syndrome
IBS is a symptom-based disorder that affects your large colon. People with IBS experience bouts with cramping, diarrhea, constipation, and bloating. IBS doesn’t cause any permanent damage to your colon.
For most people, IBS symptoms improve as they learn how to control their condition. Only a small number of people with IBS actually experience crippling signs and symptoms. The signs and symptoms of IBS can be managed by changing your diet, lifestyle, and stress.
I know for me, my IBS episodes only happen a few times a year. My IBS is typically a short period of debilitating cramps and diarrhea followed by several days of constipation. My episodes are triggered by two things: over-consumption of dairy and/or caffeine and anxiety attacks. I have actually caused myself to have IBS episodes by having a severe panic attack (which is awesome because I then start to panic that I’m going to have an IBS episode, a nice circle effect).
IBS is typically treated with anti-diarrhea medications (like Imodium), anti-spasmodic medications (like Bentyl), antidepressants, fiber supplements, and elimination of high gas foods. There are currently two prescription medications approved specifically for the treatment of IBS: Lotronex and Amitiza. These are taken after other therapies haven’t worked.
IBD: Inflammatory Bowel Disease
IBD, unlike IBS, causes the inflammation of all or part of your digestive tract. It causes watery diarrhea, rectal bleeding, abdominal cramps, pain, fever, and weight loss. It can be extremely painful and debilitating, and sometimes leads to life-threatening complications.
Like most of you reading this blog, Dan experiences IBD episodes multiple times a day, some days worse than others. He experiences bouts of cramping, diarrhea, and nausea daily. IBD is controlled through medications, like anti-inflammatories, immunosuppressants, antibiotics, corticosteroids, and, if necessary, surgery. IBD symptoms can also be improved by modifying ones diet and eliminating the consumption of trigger foods.
IBS versus IBD: The Differences
Despite the obvious differences, some patients with IBD are originally misdiagnosed with IBS and go without appropriate treatment. Here are the major differences between the two ailments:
IBS is a functional disorder; IBD is a chronic illness.
IBS does not cause any GI inflammation; IBD causes chronic inflammation of the GI tract.
IBS does not cause permanent damage to your colon; IBD does.
IBD does not cause changes in bowel tissue; IBD does.
IBS doesn’t increase your risk of colorectal cancer; IBD does.
IBS is not a life-threatening condition; IBD can be.
IBS does not cause bleeding or black stools; IBD can.
Patients with IBS have a “normal” looking gut; Patients with IBD do not.
IBS does not cause fistulas or strictures; IBD does.
IBS can be treated with diet and lifestyle changes; IBD requires treatment with medication as well as diet changes.