Colon and Rectal Surgery Patient Care

Inflammatory Bowel Disease or Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Comparison of IBS and IBD symptoms with medical illustration of the digestive system.

Inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome are two different conditions. Both are chronic conditions, meaning that the symptoms can flare up over time. Both inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome can cause similar symptoms, including abdominal cramping and pains, diarrhea, and constipation.

The names, abbreviations and symptoms of these conditions may be similar, but there are important differences between the two. Seeing a specialist who can provide testing and diagnosis is important for people who may have one of these gastrointestinal problems.

Irritable bowel syndrome does not cause visible damage to the digestive tract and may be treated with a combination of medication and lifestyle changes, which can provide long-term relief for some people.

Inflammatory bowel diseases (including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s) cause inflammation in the intestines, which can lead to permanent damage to the gastrointestinal tract. Inflammatory bowel disease usually requires long-term management, and for some severe cases surgery may be needed.

What is irritable bowel syndrome?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a type of functional gastrointestinal disorder.

IBS symptoms include abdominal cramping, bloating and a change in bowel habits. Different types of IBS can cause people to have diarrhea, constipation or both.

IBS may be caused by a problem with the way the gut and brain work together. In some cases, severe digestive tract infections could lead to IBS symptoms.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases notes that IBS does not cause visible damage to the digestive tract. Unlike inflammatory bowel disease, which causes inflammation that damages the intestines, IBS symptoms do not cause permanent physical damage to the body. Despite not visibly causing damage, IBS can be uncomfortable and can impact a person’s quality of life.

Treatment for IBS usually includes antibiotics, dietary changes and other medications to ease the symptoms. Depending on the cause of IBS, counseling and mental health care may also be part of treatment.

Comparison of IBS and IBD treatments with medical illustration of the digestive system.

What is inflammatory bowel disease?

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a disease that causes inflammation of the intestines.

The term IBD includes both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. These are two different types of IBDs that can cause inflammation in different parts of the intestines. Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract, while ulcerative colitis only occurs in the colon and rectum.

The inflammation caused by IBD can permanently damage the intestines.

Causes of IBD may include a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Researchers are investigating possible causes to better understand these conditions.

IBD symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, bloody stool, blocked bowels and weight loss. The symptoms can vary depending on the location of the inflammation in the intestines. Flare-ups of IBD can be unpredictable, but treatment can help control the symptoms.

Diagnosing IBD can be complex, and often requires laboratory tests, imaging scans and other types of exams.

Treatment for IBD depends on your symptoms and overall health, as well as the extent of the disease. There are medical and surgical therapies for IBD. Anti-inflammatory drugs, steroids and other medications may help some people with IBD. If medications do not control the symptoms, or if certain complications from IBD make the condition worse, surgery may be an option.

IBD Treatment at Washington University

Managing IBD requires a team of specialists. Washington University Colon & Rectal offers a team-based approach that focuses on collaboration between patients, gastroenterologists and colorectal surgeons. The exact treatment is tailored for each individual patient.

If surgery is recommended, Washington University Colon and Rectal Surgery specialists will listen to your goals, discuss your options, and help you find the treatment that is the best fit for you.

Washington University colon & rectal surgeons and gastroenterologists are leading experts in treating IBD and other colorectal conditions in the St. Louis area. For more information, visit the Washington University Colon & Rectal Surgery website.

To request an appointment, please call 314-454-7177 or fill out an online appointment form.