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Understanding IBS and IBD

IBD Vs. IBS: What Are the Key Differences?

Pug sitting on the toilet and reading a newspaper
Pug sitting on the toilet and reading a newspaper

It’s important to understand the differences between IBD and IBS. There are a lot of misconceptions about these two digestive conditions. Both affect the gut, often result in overlapping symptoms such as abdominal pain and diarrhea, and the acronyms are very similar (which is often a point of confusion). However, that’s where the similarities end.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

IBD is a term that primarily refers to two diseases of the intestines: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. These both involve inflammation in the digestive tract, but where this inflammation occurs is different in the two diseases. Physicians can detect this inflammation in the gut through a colonoscopy.

Symptoms include:

  • Severe diarrhea
  • Rectal bleeding 
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Poor absorption of food and resulting complications, such as weight loss and nutrient deficiencies

Treatment options:

  • Powerful medications that reduce inflammation, such as 5-aminosalicylic acid (5-ASA), corticosteroids, immunosuppressive agents, and biologics
  • Medications that help manage specific symptoms
  • Dietary changes and supplements to rest the bowel and/or improve any nutritional deficiencies 
  • Some individuals may require surgery to remove part or all of the colon (colectomy) or small intestine (ileostomy) and create a new surgical opening in the abdominal wall (ostomy) to collect stool

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

IBS is a chronic, often debilitating functional gastrointestinal disorder. In IBS, there’s no physical evidence of disease apparent during a colonoscopy. Instead, the problem occurs in how the gut functions and responds to stimuli such as eating and stress. A physician will typically diagnose IBS based on an individual’s symptoms and medical history. 

Symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Altered bowel behaviours, such as constipation or diarrhea, or alternating between the two

Treatment options:

  • Highly-individualized management plans
  • Dietary changes, such as a low-FODMAP diet, reducing consumption of trigger foods, and increasing fibre
  • Medications targeted toward specific symptoms
  • Probiotics
  • Physiotherapy

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