Is There A Difference Between IBS and IBD?

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In honor of National IBS Awareness Month, we’re going to shed light on the difference between IBS and IBD. While their names sound similar and they both deal with the digestive tract, they are in fact two distinct gastrointestinal disorders. 

Both can cause similar symptoms such as urgent bowel movements, stomach pain, bloating and diarrhea or constipation. Beyond that, they are quite different. Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD) causes physical damage such as chronic inflammation or ulcers inside your bowels. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is the result of your digestive tract improperly functioning. Meaning, IBD causes physical damage and IBS does not. 

IBS Symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Cramps
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea

According to the American College of Gastroenterology, it is estimated that 10-15% of the adult population of the US suffers from IBS symptoms.

IBD Symptoms:

  • Eye, skin or joint inflammation
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Intestinal scarring
  • Joint pain
  • Malnutrition
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Weight loss
  • Fever


You might have IBS if you have belly pain that lasts at least 1 day a week for three months and your pain is two of the following:

  • Associated with bowel movement
  • The pain starts a bowel movement more or less often
  • Your stool looks different when your pain begins

Doctors can test if you have IBD with physical examination (i.e. a colonoscopy or CT scan) and with blood and stool tests. According to the CDC, it’s estimated that around 3 million adults are diagnosed with IBD in the US each year. If there is inflammation or ulcers present, your doctor can narrow down the type of IBD you have. The most common forms are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. 

The Difference Between IBS and IBD Causes

It’s unclear what causes IBS. However, the chronic inflammation caused by IBD is what causes bleeding and ulcers in the digestive tract which causes irritation, pain, fever, and fatigue. IBD can be triggered by certain foods, stress, infections, and hormones. 

Treating IBS

Oftentimes, changing your diet can help, but there isn’t a specific diet since everyone with the conditions are different. Generally, the following guidelines can help:

  • Consume more fiber
  • Avoid lactose 
  • Eat fewer foods that cause bloating and gas
  • Drink more water
  • Stop drinking caffeine and eating beans
  • Don’t eat fried or fatty foods
  • Limit or avoid a specific carb called “FODMAPs” 
    • FODMAPs are a type of carb. The acronym stands for “fermentable oligo-, di-, monosaccharides and polyols.” People with IBS and IBD avoid them because this specific type of carb (found in some vegetables, fruits, dairy, and beans) draws water into the digestive tract which can cause bloating. Or worse, if you eat too much, they can stay in your gut and ferment. Avoiding them can provide relief for IBS within 7 days.

Your doctor may also prescribe medication that can provide some relief or they may suggest stress management, relaxation training or probiotics. Overall, dietary and lifestyle changes seem to help the most for people with IBS.

Treating IBD

The form of IBD depends largely on the type of treatment your doctor will recommend. However, the primary goal is treating and preventing inflammation that causes physical damage to your intestines. 

Medication, more often than not, is used to treat inflammation IBD causes. Medication for IBD does not work for IBS, which is why understanding the difference between IBS and IBD is so crucial. Also, some IBD patients require surgery and IBS patients do not. Finally, IBD increases your chances of developing colorectal cancer. It’s important to talk to your gastroenterologist so you can understand all your options and schedule regular screenings and tests.


The difference between IBD and IBS may seem similar at first glance. However, the difference between IBS and IBD are important to recognize for proper treatment and management. The goal is to reduce inflammation if you have IBD. IBS, on the other hand, may not be treatable just managed with lifestyle changes. 

Your gastroenterologist will be able to determine your specific condition and treatment plan to best manage your symptoms. We have decades of experience treating diseases and disorders in all parts of the digestive system. To make an appointment to discuss your symptoms and treatment options, call us at (205) 271-8000.

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