Similarities and Differences Between IBS and IBD

doctor holding diagram of intestines

IBS vs IBD: Their Similarities and Differences Explained

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) are both extremely painful gastrointestinal disorders. They are often confused with one another due to the similarities in their names and the fact that they share some common symptoms. However, these two conditions are vastly different in many ways. Keep reading to learn more about the similarities and differences between IBS vs IBD.

What is IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) falls under the classification of “functional gastrointestinal disorder.” This recognizes the existence of impaired bowel function. The symptoms of IBS can range in severity from mild to disabling, which can negatively affect one’s quality of life, self-image, and ability to function whether they are at work, traveling, or carrying on with daily life activities.

As debilitating as IBS can be, it is classified as a syndrome as opposed to disease, because there are no real signs of abnormalities or disease in those who suffer from it. IBS does not cause the colon to become inflamed and shows no increased risk in the development of colon cancers or IBD. It is very rare for a case of IBS to require either hospitalization or surgery.

IBS affects an estimated 10 to 15 percent of the US adult population, with women being more likely to be affected than men. It also affects almost half of IBD patients – even when in remission (1).

It is one of the most frequently diagnosed conditions by US physicians and the most commonly diagnosed disorder by gastroenterologists, although the causes of IBS are still unclear.  Many individuals who suffer from IBS usually also suffer from other functional disorders such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, or temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ). 

 What is IBD?

In contrast to IBS, Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a disease whose effects can cause permanent damage to the intestinal tract. IBD causes serious inflammation in the bowels and the digestive tract. Those who suffer from IBD have an increased risk of developing colon cancer. 

The two most common conditions of IBD are ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn’s disease (CD). Microscopic colitis is another IBD type that can include lymphocytic and collagenous colitis. Also, some people fall into a category called indeterminate colitis. This classification is used when inflammation is detected but initial tests cannot definitively place it as either UC or CD. Indeterminate colitis will eventually evolve into either UC or CD. 

Ulcerative colitis is the most common form of IBD. This lifelong condition manifests as recurring episodes where inflammation affects the mucosal layer of the colon. It can affect all parts of the colon.

Crohn’s disease has the ability to affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract, from your mouth to your anus. Crohn’s patients have frequent urges to have a bowel movement. However, once they finally do, they feel like they are not able to completely empty their bowels. 

IBS Symptoms

IBS symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain that occurs in any part of the abdomen
  • Cramping that feels like waves of cramps
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • The urgency to have a bowel movement
  • Mucus in the stool

Many IBS patients will alternate between being constipated or having diarrhea, while others will have one but not the other. When IBS patients do have a bowel movement, there is often a sensation that the bowels are not empty. The pain from IBS can be felt all across the abdomen, but most often, IBS patients will feel pain and cramping in either the lower right or lower left quadrant. 

IBD Symptoms

IBD symptoms include all of the same symptoms of IBS. They also have additional symptoms that can include:

  • Blood in the stool
  • Eye inflammation and discomfort
  • Extreme levels of fatigue
  • Pain in their joints
  • Skin sensitivity
  • Pain around and bleeding from the rectum
  • Weight loss
  • Severe urgency
  • Sores in their mouths
  • Malnutrition

The first sign of IBD is most commonly gastrointestinal pain. When the disease is in symptom remission, IBD patients normally experience very little or no pain. 

However almost half of those with IBD in remission will still experience irritation symptoms common with IBS (1).

IBS Treatment

There are very few medical treatments for IBS. It is very rare that IBS is bad enough to require hospitalization or surgery. Each person with IBS is different. What affects one may not affect the other. 

However, we have found in our practice that bringing in strategies to support the microbiome can significantly help improve IBS. Many of the clients we see are surprised that with adjustments, over time they are able to tolerate many foods they weren’t able to previously.

Stress is a factor in making your IBS symptoms worse. By taking steps to reduce your stress, you may find an improvement in your symptoms. Discovering what treatment is best for you is like putting together pieces of a puzzle. As you start recognizing which pieces fit for you, you will find yourself feeling better and on the road to a better life.

IBD Treatment

Since IBD is more than a functional condition, you have even more treatment options. Some of the things that work with IBS will work well for IBD. There are also many medications that can help improve your IBD symptoms. 

The primary goal of IBD treatment is to reduce the inflammation, improve quality of life and reduce your risk of flare. When you find the right combination of medications, nutrition therapy, and possibly even surgical intervention, you can start feeling better.


The following medications are proven to help with IBD:

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs: There are a number of different anti-inflammatory drugs for IBD treatment. The type of drug you are prescribed will be based on the areas of the colon affected by your disease. Corticosteroids fall under this classification, as do drugs that are aminosalicylates.
  • Immune system suppressors: These drugs are effective because they can suppress the damaging response from the immune system that releases chemicals that only serve to induce inflammation into the body.
  • Biologics: This classification of drugs is relatively new to IBD treatment protocols. Biologics work by neutralizing those proteins in the body that cause or aggravate inflammation.
  • Antibiotics: Antibiotics are only included when there is a presence of infection during a flare. Overuse of antibiotics when they are not needed can make them less effective when they are needed.
  • Anti-diarrheal medications: These can include a fiber supplement or the more standard loperamide (Imodium A-D).
  • Pain relievers: When your pain is mild, doctors will recommend acetaminophen-based pain relievers. It is important to know that some of the alternative OTC pain treatments such as ibuprofen, naproxen, or diclofenac can actually aggravate both your symptoms and your disease.
  • Nutritional supplements: If it is discovered that you are having trouble absorbing important nutrients, they can be supplemented by vitamins and nutritional supplements.

Nutritional Support

Probably one of the most important treatments of IBD comes in the form of nutrition support. There are many people online that offer solutions, nutrition guidance and even cures for IBD- but as you may have figured out- they are not all the same.

We advise IBD patients to seek an IBD specialized dietitian. In case you weren’t aware, licensed dietitians are actually the only medical professionals able to provide medical nutrition therapy for IBD. 

Here are a few other things to know:

  • Medical nutrition therapy is prescribed nutrition designed for a specific condition. This can include dietary and supplement strategies. 
  • It’s important to note that personal trainers, bloggers, influencers and people in forums offer nutrition advice but only licensed dietitians can legally provide IBD nutrition support.
  • Quality nutrition therapy for IBD differs from generic nutrition advice offered by those less specialized
  • An IBD specialized dietitian will have extensive training and experience with the unique needs of an IBD patient 

Quality nutrition for IBD may require a customized plan that considers your symptoms, the level of damage the disease has already done, and food allergies or sensitivities you have. Although those recently diagnosed or just looking to advance their nutrition strategy may benefit from our Crohns and Colitis Remission Blueprint group program.

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes can affect your IBD in many ways. Bringing in stress resilience strategies is something we work on with many of our clients. Long term perceived stress can actually triple your risk of flare and can amplify symptoms like urgency. 

Surgical Intervention

When diet, medications, and lifestyle changes do not relieve your symptoms, your doctor may choose surgical intervention. These surgeries, known as resections, remove the areas of diseased bowel and reconnect the healthy sections.

Similarities and Differences Between IBS vs IBD

The similarities between IBS and IBD are that both are gastrointestinal disorders that share many of the same signs and symptoms. The primary differences between the two are that IBS is a functional condition while IBD is a disease. 

In Conclusion

There are ways that you can decrease your gastrointestinal symptoms of both IBS and IBD by focusing on your nutrition and lifestyle changes. The Crohn’s and Colitis Remission Blueprint has provided relief for many IBD patients. If you are ready to learn how you too can improve your symptoms, decrease your flares, and lead a more normal life, contact us today to learn more information.


Minderhoud, I.M., Oldenburg, B., Wismeijer, J.A. et al. IBS-Like Symptoms in Patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Remission; Relationships with Quality of Life and Coping Behavior. Dig Dis Sci 49, 469–474 (2004).

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