Time and time again you hear it—are Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) the same? Or people say—I know someone who has IBS, that’s the same as Crohn’s, right?! I’m here to help set the record straight. Although the two disorders share similar names, they have distinct differences.
When you hear of IBS it’s classified as a functional gastrointestinal syndrome, which means there is some type of disturbance in bowel function. BUT—it’s not a disease. Syndromes are defined as a group of symptoms, in this case abdominal cramping, bouts of diarrhea, and constipation. IBS does not cause inflammation; patients’ digestive tracts show no sign of disease or abnormalities.
IBD (Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis) cause destructive inflammation and permanent harm to the intestines and bowel. Crohn’s and UC are characterized as autoimmune diseases. For instance, IBD can affect not only the intestines, but can also cause arthritis, anemia, blood clots, malabsorption, weight loss, eye conditions…and the list goes on. Crohn’s can affect anywhere along the gastrointestinal tract (from the mouth to the anus), and can result in strictures (narrowing parts of the intestine), fistulas (abnormal connections between different organs or sections of bowel), and abscesses (collections of pus) inside the abdomen or around the anus.
Since my diagnosis of Crohn’s in 2005—aside from the chronic inflammation in my small intestine associated with flare ups, I’ve dealt with anemia, malabsorption, osteoporosis, and malnourishment. In 2008 I had an abscess the size of a tennis ball in my small intestine, luckily it was alleviated by IV medication.
While IBS causes discomfort (and I’m not trying to discredit the pain people feel)… IBS rarely results in hospitalizations and treatment does not involve surgery or powerful medications, such as steroids and biologics.
According to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, IBS affects at least 10-20 percent of adults in the U.S.—mostly women—and is second only to the common cold as a cause of people missing work! Surprisingly, it’s one of the top ten most frequently diagnosed conditions among physicians in the U.S.
Just like with IBD, the cause of IBS is still unclear. Some believe stress aggravates the condition. While some consider it a psychological condition, it is not. People with IBS also tend to have irregular patterns of colon motility (meaning that the nerve endings lining the bowel are unusually sensitive, and in turn make the gut more active).
Most people with IBS will never develop IBD. But, a person who has been diagnosed with IBD may display IBS-like symptoms. Both are considered chronic conditions, meaning the symptoms are ongoing.
All in all, it’s all about quality of life—and neither IBS nor IBD are a walk in the park. Both have their share of social stigmas. Before you associate the two as the same, be mindful of your words and how they impact your friend or family member who lives with either on a daily basis.
For further information, call the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation’s IBD Help Center: 888.MY.GUT.PAIN (888.694.8872).