Despite having similar symptoms, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) are entirely different conditions. IBD is an umbrella term for a group of diseases, including colitis and Crohn’s disease.
Inflammatory bowel diseases, as the name suggests, cause inflammation in the digestive tract due to a faulty immune system response. On the other hand, IBS is a gastrointestinal disorder whose cause is unknown that affects proper muscle contractions in the large intestine.
Understanding IBS and IBD Symptoms
IBD and IBS both affect the gastrointestinal tract and cause chronic symptoms. IBS can be diagnosed if an individual experiences symptoms for longer than a few months, which typically are constipation, diarrhea, stomach cramps, bloating, and gassiness.
In most cases, people with IBS either suffer from diarrhea or constipation the most, but they may also have alternating spells of both. Unlike IBD, IBS does not cause inflammation in the digestive tract.
The primary symptoms of IBD are typically diarrhea and stomach pain or cramps. Instead of alternating symptoms, though, with IBD, the dominant symptoms are often chronic and severe. The symptoms and pain experienced in IBD also vary depending on whether an individual has ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease as though these diseases belong in the same family, they can differ.
For instance, colitis primarily affects the large intestine, whereas Crohn’s disease can inflame the entire intestinal tract. Both inflammatory bowel diseases are caused by the same irregular immune system response, which turns the body against itself and attacks the lining of the GI tract.
In more severe cases, the trademark symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, stomach cramps, and bloating can be accompanied by fever, fatigue, appetite loss, weight loss, and blood in stools, which can be a cause for concern.
IBS vs IBD: Long-Term Risks
IBD is a lot more serious than IBS and can potentially be life-threatening relative to IBS. The biggest risks associated with IBS are typically malnutrition caused by diarrhea coupled with pain and a loss of appetite, and also hemorrhoids due to constipation and straining. While IBS can be uncomfortable and have a general impact on one’s overall quality of life without treatment and lifestyle changes, IBS is manageable and not deadly.
IBD, however, is an inflammatory disease by nature, so it comes with bigger risks. Without proper care, monitoring, and treatment, IBD can result in serious bowel obstructions, ulcers that can lead to infections, and even colorectal cancer in some cases.
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