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What is the difference between Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

Often people confuse irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Both are common bowel conditions; they have some similar symptoms, and both have an impact on a person’s quality of life. It is important to note that although there are some similarities, they are two very different disorders which require very different treatments.

IBS is characterised by functional gastrointestinal symptoms without inflammation, whereas IBD involves chronic inflammation and damage to the intestines. It is important to get an accurate diagnosis so that the appropriate treatment can be started to manage your condition.

Although the two are distinctly different conditions, an individual who has been diagnosed with one, may display symptoms of the other. Both are chronic and ongoing conditions, and it is possible to have both at the same time.

Both conditions can occur in anyone, at any age, yet they seem to run in families.

Read on to learn more about both bowel conditions….


Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS):

IBS is a common condition and affects 13 million people in the UK.


The exact cause of IBS is unknown, but it is believed to involve a combination of factors. These may include abnormal muscle contractions in the intestines, hypersensitivity to certain foods, infections, and changes in gut bacteria.


Common symptoms of IBS include stomach cramps, bloating, gas, and changes in bowel habits such as diarrhoea, constipation, or alternating between the two. These tend to come and go over time and can last for days, weeks or months at a time.


IBS does not involve inflammation or damage to the intestines.


Diagnosis of IBS is typically based on the presence of characteristic symptoms and ruling out other conditions through medical tests.


Treatment for IBS often focuses on managing symptoms through dietary changes, stress management, medications to alleviate specific symptoms (such as antispasmodics or laxatives), and behavioural therapies.


Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD):

IBD is less common and affects over 500,00 people in the UK.


There are two main types of IBD: Ulcerative Colitis (involving sores/ulcers and inflammation affecting the lining of your large intestine/colon and rectum) and Crohn’s disease (chronic inflammation affecting any part of the digestive tract, from mouth to anus).


The exact cause of IBD is not fully understood, but it is considered to involve an abnormal immune response where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own digestive tract, leading to chronic inflammation.


Symptoms of IBD can include abdominal pain, diarrhoea (which may be bloody), fatigue, weight loss, and sometimes fever. IBD can also cause complications such as strictures, fistulas, and nutritional deficiencies.


Unlike IBS, IBD involves inflammation and damage to the lining of the digestive tract, which can be seen on imaging studies and through endoscopic examination.


Diagnosis of IBD involves a combination of medical history, physical examination, blood tests, imaging studies (such as colonoscopy or endoscopy), and sometimes biopsy samples to confirm inflammation.


Treatment for IBD aims to reduce inflammation, control symptoms, and prevent complications. This may involve medications such as anti-inflammatory drugs,immunosuppressants, biologics, dietary changes. In severe cases, surgery may be used to remove damaged portions of the intestine leading to stoma formation.

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