Diseases & Conditions
Are inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome the same?
Ask the doctors
Q. I was recently diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome. Is this the same thing as inflammatory bowel disease?
A. No, they are not the same. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) refers to two conditions, ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, which are caused by a malfunctioning immune system. In these diseases, the immune system misfires, causing the lining of the digestive tract to become chronically inflamed and irritated. Both can lead to long-term digestive tract damage. In Crohn's disease, this inflammation can occur anywhere in the digestive tract, while colitis affects only the colon and the rectum. IBD triggers a number of symptoms, including abdominal pain and cramping, fevers, diarrhea, and bloody bowel movements, among others.
While people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may experience some of the same symptoms as people with IBD, there is no obvious inflammation within the digestive tract. The underlying cause of IBS is unknown, but symptoms may arise due to uncoordinated intestinal contractions that affect bowel movements and hypersensitive nerves in the gut. People with IBS commonly have diarrhea, constipation, or both, as well as abdominal pain and cramping. While IBS can cause significant distress and discomfort for those affected, people don't typically experience severe complications as a result of the condition or need to have surgery. It's most often managed through lifestyle change or medication.
— Toni Golen, M.D., and Hope Ricciotti, M.D.
Editors in Chief, Harvard Women's Health Watch
Image: © Mono/Getty Images
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