Differences Between IBD and IBS (Bowel Conditions) FAQ

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are two conditions that are often confused with one another. While there are several common bowel symptoms, both IBD and IBS are two entirely separate conditions and many aspects of each condition is different. Both conditions remain elusive in certain facets, particularly when it comes to the cause. However, there are other aspects of both conditions that are well understood and help in differentiating IBD from IBS.

What is the problem?

The pathology in inflammatory bowel disease is as the name suggests – inflammation in the bowels. The cause of this inflammation is unknown but it is believed to be due to a malfunctioning immune system where the it attacks the bowel tissues. The mechanism may also cause the formation of open sores (ulcers).

The problem in irritable bowel syndrome is still largely elusive. Nobody is as yet 100% certain what the problem is but investigations do not usually reveal any problem in the bowel like inflammation or ulcers. It is thought that the symptoms seen in IBS are due to one or more of the following disturbances – abnormal bowel motility, increased perception of organ sensations, or even mental health problems.

What are the symptoms?

There is a large degree of overlap in the symptoms of IBS and IBS which is why these two conditions are often confused with one another. Abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhea and mucus in the stool are some of the common symptoms. However, blood in the stool which is seen in IBD usually does not occur with IBS unless there are bleeding hemorrhoids or some other source of blood loss into the feces.

Furthermore not every type of IBS presents with diarrhea. Some people suffer more with constipation while others have alternating diarrhea and constipation in IBS. Fever, fatigue,  changes in appetite and reduced weight loss are some of the other symptoms seen in IBD but are not present or not prominent in IBS.

How is it caused?

The cause of both conditions are not conclusively known. It is believed that inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is autoimmune in nature and the immune malfunction may be due to genetic factors and triggered by environmental factors. It is believed that one of the major triggers is a viral infection at some point in life. However, this does not mean that IBD is an infectious disorder.

The cause of IBS is still perplexing to the medical fraternity. Of the many theories it is believed that the cause is neurohormonal in nature. To put it simply, a complex interplay of emotions, nerve activity and neurotransmitters may be responsible for the abnormal muscle contractions in the bowel that is believed to be the mechanism in IBS.

Which is more serious?

The seriousness of each condition depends on what factors one may consider. Generally IBD is considered to be more serious because of the intensity of symptoms in severe cases, the progression of the condition and the cancer risk. There is no such risk of cancer with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) but this does not diminish the suffering of IBS patients. In fact there are times where the symptoms of IBS can be more severe than IBD and affect the person’s quality of life more extensively.

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