What Is the Difference Between IBS and IBD?

Hearing the terms IBS and IBD get tossed around can get very confusing. IBS refers to irritable bowel syndrome, while IBD refers to inflammatory bowel disease. They are two different intestinal disorders that can have very similar symptoms.

Irritable bowel syndrome is a functional disorder and classified as a syndrome not as a disease. Syndromes include a group of symptoms. Irritable bowel syndrome, IBS, symptoms commonly include chronic abdominal pain or discomfort, diarrhea or constipation, or altering occurrences of the two. IBS sufferers may also have other conditions, such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic pelvic pain and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder.

IBS has had other names through the years, but none of them really accurately describe IBS. Names like mucous colitis and spastic colitis imply that IBS includes colitis, inflammation of the colon, but IBS symptoms do not cause inflammation. In exams, IBS sufferers show no signs of inflammation in the colon.

By contrast, inflammatory bowel disease, IBD, does include inflammation. IBD may result in permanent harm to the intestines, intestinal bleeding and other harmful complications of the disease. IBD can put patients at further risk for other gastrointestinal diseases and may require serious treatment protocols, such as hospitalization, surgery or the use of powerful medications.

In comparison, IBS is a less serious condition, but it can cause a great deal of disruption in your life. Having IBS may affect your self-image, social life and ability to work or travel. IBS affects an estimated ten to twenty percent of the population, mostly women, and is commonly cited as an excuse for missing work. Symptoms of IBS most often present in older teens or young adults.

Chronic and persistent abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea or constipation alternating with diarrhea are the most common symptoms of IBS. These are followed by increased amounts of mucus in the stool, gassiness, abdominal bloating (the sensation of fullness), abdominal distention (swelling), an urge to move the bowels with the inability to do so and sometimes nausea. Times of stress or eating a big meal can set off an incident of IBS, which is usually relieved temporarily by having a bowel movement. More serious symptoms like weight loss, anemia, bleeding and fever are not symptoms associated with IBS.

The causes of IBS are not fully understood. In the past, stress was blamed for IBS. Now researchers believe that IBS is the result of miscommunication between the gut and the brain, which can be exacerbated by stress. IBS uses the term irritable because irregular muscle contractions in the colon cause nerve endings to irritate muscles that are not usually active. This causes spasms in the colon, which result in either diarrhea or constipation.

Treatment of IBS tends to focus on the symptoms because the underlying cause remains unknown. Dietary changes and stress therapies may be useful, as well as various medications.

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