Do you know the difference between IBS and IBD?

It can be tricky, all those Is and Bs, combined with the fact that few of us feel comfortable discussing our bowels normally, let alone if they’re irritable or diseased. So it’s no wonder they can get muddled up in people’s minds.

Here’s our straightforward guide to each: definitions, symptoms to look out for and treatments for both.

IBS – Irritable Bowel Syndrome

What is it?

Affecting the colon and the large intestine, IBS is a term used to encompass a range of gut-related symptoms that cannot be fully explained, or show no direct medical abnormality.

What causes it?

Nobody is quite sure. It is often brought on by psychological triggers such as stress, major life changes and acute anxiety.

However, many also see it purely as a problem with digestion, where your body hasn’t set the right pace for passing food through the gut.

[Read more: 6 top tips to beat irritable bowel syndrome the natural way]

Who gets it?

According to IBS Network: “The quick answer is ‘we all do’, though some people get it more severely than others.” They suggest that 10-20% of people who live in Western countries are suffering from the condition at any one time, but young women and twice as likely to develop it as men and older people.

What are the symptoms?

The condition varies in severity from person to person and can last from a few months up to a lifetime. Symptoms include:

  • Stomach cramping and spasms
  • Diarrhoea and constipation
  • Bloating
  • Noisy stomach sounds
  • Excessive wind
  • Incontinence and often needing the toilet urgently
  • Never feeling as though bowels have been fully emptied
  • Backache and joint pain
  • Nausea
  • Bladder issues
  • Pain during sex
  • Anxiety and depression

Can it be cured?

Unfortunately, as yet, there is no cure. However…

How do you treat it?

Sufferers are encouraged to tick all the healthy lifestyle boxes. That means a fibre-rich diet (namely, soluble fibres such as oats, barley and fruit and veg if you’re prone to constipation, and cutting down on insoluble fibres like bran and wholegrain if more prone to diarrhoea), lots of exercise and minimising stress as much as possible.

IBS or IBD

IBD – Inflammatory Bowel Disease

What is it?

Inflammatory Bowel Disease refers to two chronic, long-term conditions: ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. Both involve inflammation of the gut, but in severe cases, Crohn’s can nastily affect the entire digestive system, from mouth to rectum.

What causes it?

There’s no consensus on the causes, although doctors agree that there are strong arguments for both genetics and problems with the immune system – or a combination of the two.

Who gets it?

According to figures released by NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence), 261,000 people were affected by IBD in 2012 and 2013, with 146,000 coping with ulcerative colitis and 115,000 Crohn’s – so one in 250. People aged 20-40 and in their late teens are most susceptible, with both genders equally at risk.

What are the symptoms?

People can suffer all or just a few of these symptoms, but not constantly. People with IBD often experience flare-ups, followed by periods that are symptom-free.

  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Lethargy
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Diarrhoea – recurring, and often bloody
  • Aching, swollen joints
  • Mouth ulcers
  • High temperature
  • Vomiting
  • Low iron levels

Can it be cured?

IBD can be managed, but neither strands of the condition can be cured entirely.

How do you treat it?
Depending on the severity of the case, medication can be prescribed; otherwise, surgery to removed damaged sections of the gut is an option, resulting in people depending on an ostomy pouch or colostomy bag. It is estimated that 20% of people with ulcerative colitis and 60-75% of those with Crohn’s will undergo surgery. 

Find out more about IBS at The IBS Network, and IBD at Crohn's and Colitis UK.

Do you get embarrassed when talking about bowel conditions? Do you have any advice for IBS or IBD sufferers? Leave a comment below…