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IBD vs. IBS: Differences between Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments Topic Guide

IBD vs. IBS: What Are the Differences? IBD vs. IBS: What Are the Differences?:

Inflammatory bowel disease or IBD consists of a group of gastrointestinal (GI, digestive) tract diseases that cause chronic inflammation of the GI tract (from the esophagus to the anus). The most common forms of IBD are ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn's disease. While irritable bowel syndrome or IBS a functional disease and is comprised of a group of symptoms that affect only the colon and cause symptoms like gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, and changes in bowel movements.

Both IBD and IBS cause symptoms like diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal cramping and pain. But that is where the similarities end. IBD symptoms are more serious and severe and include bloody diarrhea, joint pain, skin problems, eye problems, fever, and severe and/or chronic abdominal pain. The symptoms of IBS often are uncomfortable and painful and include bloating, gas, mild to moderate abdominal pain, diarrhea (IBS-D), constipation (IBS-C), changes in the frequency if bowel movements, discomfort or pain that resolves after a bowel movement, whitish mucus in the stool, changes in the way stools look, and the feeling of having to have a bowel movement after just having one.

Researchers do not know what causes either GI condition, but they believe that there are genetic and immune response factors involved in IBD. IBS is a condition in which the colon does not function normally (functional disease), but there is no structural damage to it, for example, it does not cause ulcers in colon. IBD can affect the entire digestive tract while IBS only affects the colon.

Treatment for both conditions is to primarily to manage the symptoms. Other treatments for IBD depend upon the type of IBD, the severity, any other problems with health, the part of the GI tract affected, medications, stress management, supplements, and in some cases, surgery. IBS treatment involves managing symptoms and avoiding triggers that worsen them, for example, stress management, dietary changes, exercise, and other therapies.

The prognosis for inflammatory bowel disease depends upon the type and severity of disease. The prognosis for IBS depends upon how well the patient does with changes in diet, exercise, and stress management. There is no cure for either disease.


Womenshealth.gov. "Inflammatory bowel disease." Updated Apr 18, 2017.

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