Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome?

Medically reviewed by: Gary H. Hoffman, MD

IBS?  IBD? Not The Same.  Different Diseases.

Many people confuse Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).  These conditions are not the same thing but many patients confuse these conditions and ask whether they have Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome.  Read this article to understand the differences and which one matches your symptoms.

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It’s one thing to have the sniffles and sneezes. You might take a day or two off work, ingest a few over-the-counter meds to treat your symptoms, or maybe even see your doctor for a prescription antibiotic. In a week, you’re back to your old self and that cold quickly becomes a distant memory. But if you have a stomach ache that won’t quit, a constant struggle with diarrhea or constipation, and with symptoms that seem to linger for weeks, disappear, and then return, you’re probably wondering what’s happening to your body.

If you try to figure out your own medical diagnosis for recurrent gastrointestinal problems, you might come across a condition on the Internet that some people call inflammatory bowel syndrome. But before you try and dive into learning more about the symptoms, treatment options, and outlook for IBS, you need to know the correct term for this condition. It’s irritable bowel syndrome, not inflammatory bowel disease. IBS is often confused with inflammatory bowel disease.  While these two gastrointestinal conditions have similarities, IBS is not as serious as IBD. And the only way you can really know for sure if you have irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease is by visiting your doctor.

The Truth About IBS

In the United States, as many as 45 million people have irritable bowel syndrome. And while many have yet to be diagnosed, health experts believe that about 10 to 15 percent of the population is living with IBS, according to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. This gastrointestinal disorder affects more women than men, and it’s more common in people under the age of 50 than older adults. Despite ongoing research, the exact cause of IBS remains a bit of a mystery. However, some studies suggest the source of IBS is a communication problem between the gastrointestinal system, the brain, and the central nervous system.

IBS Symptoms

People with irritable bowel disease are plagued by diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain and cramping, and mucus in the stool. The symptoms may not always be present, making it difficult for those with IBS to determine if they have a gastrointestinal disorder, or just a case of indigestion. These symptoms are similar to symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease, but symptoms of IBD may also include blood in the stool, fever, weight loss, severe abdominal pain, and chronic inflammation. The only way to really tell if you have IBS, IBD, or something else is by visiting your doctor and evaluating the proper diagnostic tests.

IBS Diagnosis

If you think you might have IBS or some other gastrointestinal disorder, make an appointment to see your doctor, or a specialist. About 40 percent of all visits to gastroenterologist doctors are for people seeking relief from IBS symptoms, according to a study published in the Journal Practical Gastroenterology.

After an initial review of your symptoms and conditions, your doctor may request that you keep a detailed food diary for at least a month. You’ll note the time, day, and type of food you’re eating, in addition to any gastrointestinal discomfort you experience. This exercise provides a snapshot of your eating habits and may reveal a possible trigger that initiates an IBS attack.

But if that diagnostic tool proves inconclusive, your doctor may also recommend a blood and stool test or endoscopic exam of the colon and digestive tract. The endoscopic exam, also known as a colonoscopy, is a critical diagnostic tool that can help doctors determine if you have IBS or IBD. If you have irritable bowel syndrome, your rectum, colon, and lower digestive tract will look perfectly normal, despite the symptoms you experience. But if you have inflammatory bowel disease, this exam will reveal widespread inflammation that wreaks havoc on your digestive system.

IBS Treatment

IBS is a diagnosis of exclusion as it is sometimes a frustrating condition for those who have it because the traditional diagnostic tests will typically show that the colon and digestive tract are perfectly healthy. A new area of research has to do with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), which is a treatable way to address IBS.  It is diagnosed sometimes by breath testing and treated with antibiotics.  Options to minimize IBS symptoms and flare-ups recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services include:

Foods to Avoid

  •  Limit foods like milk and dairy products
  • Limit caffeinated drinks like coffee, soda, and energy drinks
  • Avoid alcohol

Foods to Eat

  • Eat a healthy, balanced IBS diet that includes fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains.
  • Aim to eat at least 20 grams of high-fiber foods a day.
  • Drink 40 to 64 ounces of water a day.
  • Aim to eat 4 or 5 smaller meals a day, instead of a couple large meals.

Take Medication

Talk to your doctor about medication and supplements that may reduce IBS symptoms. These may include:

  • Fiber supplements
  • Anti-diarrheal medications
  • Antispasmodic supplements
  • Antidepressant medications
  • IBS medication

Los Angeles Colon and Rectal Surgical Associates

No one wants to hear the diagnosis that they have irritable bowel syndrome, but if you do, it’s a condition that you can learn to live with. For those with IBS symptoms caused by small bowel bacterial overgrowth, you can get tested and treated. Following your doctor’s recommendations as making adjustments to your diet and lifestyle can help you minimize the symptoms and prevent flare-ups. The board surgeons of Los Angeles Colon and Rectal Surgical Associates are experienced in the diagnosis and treatment of IBS, and in treating all diseases of the colon, rectum and anus.

By calling (310)273-2310, you can schedule a confidential appointment and discuss your symptoms with an experienced physician.

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