IBD vs IBS: What’s the Difference?

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) are both disorders that affect the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. While they may sometimes have similar symptoms, they are two very different conditions that require different treatments and management.  

What is IBD? 

IBD is a disease that causes inflammation in the GI tract. This inflammation can cause ulcerations in the intestines and other complications such as fistulas or abscesses. The two most common types of IBD are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. It is typically diagnosed with blood tests, intestinal imaging, and/or a procedure that looks into the GI tract with a camera.  

Treating IBD involves medications that reduce inflammation such as short-term corticosteroids, aminosalicylates, biologics, or immunosuppressive drugs.  

What is IBS? 

IBS is the most common of the disorders of gut-brain interaction (DGBIs). IBS is a pain disorder that involves a breakdown in communication along the gut-brain axis. Changes in bowel motility and an increase in visceral sensitivity are the hallmarks of IBS. IBS symptoms can come and go in irregular, unpredictable, and often frustrating patterns. It can also be triggered by certain situations or bowel illnesses like Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) or gastritis. 

Subtypes of IBS include diarrhea dominant (IBS-D), constipation dominant (IBS-C), mixed (both diarrhea and constipation), or unclassified. This condition is diagnosed using the Rome IV diagnostic criteria for IBS. 

Treatment for IBS includes medications, diet modifications, stress management, cognitive behavioral therapy, gut directed hypnotherapy, or fiber supplementation.  

Can you have both at the same time? 

Yes! It is possible to have IBS and IBD at the same time. In fact, around 20% of people with IBD have concurrent IBS.  

IBD vs IBS: At a glance 

Digestive symptoms (diarrhea, abdominal pain, etc.) Yes Yes 
Causes systemic inflammation No Yes 
Can be seen during imaging No Yes 
Increases risk of colon cancer No Yes 
Can cause weight loss Yes Yes 
Can cause nutrient deficiencies Yes Yes