Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) broadly refers to chronic inflammation of the intestines. It’s often conflated with a noninflammatory condition called irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Both can cause diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, and cramping.
Although the two disorders share similar names and symptoms, they are different conditions requiring different treatments.
The exact causes of IBD and IBS are unknown. Researchers believe they are the result of an autoimmune reaction. Stress and eating certain foods can trigger or aggravate symptoms of each disease.
What Is Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)?
IBD is chronic inflammation of any part of the digestive tract (from mouth to anus). There are two main types of inflammatory bowel disease:
- Ulcerative colitis – inflammation and sores in the large intestine (colon) and rectum.
- Crohn’s disease – inflammation in any part of the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, especially the small intestine and terminal ileum (ileitis).
Symptoms unique to IBD include blood in the stool, joint pain, skin problems, and unexplained weight loss.
Researchers believe that an overreaction of the body’s immune system and genetics play a role in IBD.
To diagnose IBD, a physician may wish to view the digestive tract via an endoscopy, during which a biopsy may be taken. A stool sample can be used to check for internal bleeding.
IBD treatment depends on the form diagnosed. The primary goal is treating and preventing inflammation, which can damage the intestines.
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?
IBS is a less serious functional disorder. In patients with IBS, the digestive system looks normal but doesn’t work efficiently. IBS is also known as spastic colon or spastic bowel.
IBS is a chronic disorder that affects the muscle contractions of the bowel and is not characterized by intestinal inflammation. Unlike IBD, IBS does not cause inflammation, ulcers or bowel damage. It’s not a disease – patients with IBS show no clinical signs of disease and often have normal test results.
IBS patients are classified as constipation-predominant, diarrhea-predominant, or pain-predominant, depending on their primary symptom. A patient’s quality of life depends on the symptoms and their frequency.
Potential causes may include bacteria, neurotransmission issues between digestive tract and brain, food sensitivities, stress, and hormones.
IBS is sometimes called a “diagnosis of exclusion” – where the doctor rules out other conditions before diagnosing IBS.
Treatment may include certain medications such as intestinal antispasmodics like hyoscyamine (Levsin) or dicyclomine (Bentyl). Surgery is never prescribed for IBS as there is no physical damage to correct. Instead, treatments focus on reducing the symptoms themselves.
If you suffer from IBD or IBS or just want more information about these conditions, make an appointment with Austin Gastroenterology in central Texas at (512) 454-4588 for an appointment. You can also use our convenient online appointment request form.