IBS and IBD have characteristics in common, and for this reason are often confused or used interchangeably. Science has shown some overlap between the two bowel conditions as well (IBD sufferers might show signs of IBS symptoms). Let’s explore the differences and best treatments for each.
Irritable bowel syndrome, also known as IBS, is a condition that affects the large intestine. Most people with irritable bowel syndrome do not have severe symptoms, and they can manage this disorder by modifying diet and lifestyle and controlling stress. Common IBS symptoms include:
The precise cause of irritable bowel syndrome remains undetermined, but these factors may play a role in the development of the condition:
- Muscle contractions in the intestine may cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea.
- Abnormalities in the nerves of the digestive system may cause abdominal discomfort.
- Inflammation in the intestines may cause abdominal pain and diarrhea.
- Microflora are the “good” bacteria that reside in the intestines—people with IBS might have a different microflora.
- Food allergies and intolerances may make IBS symptoms worse.
- People with IBS report that symptoms are worse during stressful times.
- Women with IBS report that symptoms are worse during or around menstrual periods.
Inflammatory bowel disorder, also called IBD, is a term that describes chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. There are two types of irritable bowel disorder: the first one is ulcerative colitis, which causes long-lasting inflammation in the large intestine and rectum—the second is Crohn’s disease, which causes inflammation of the digestive tract. Common IBD symptoms include:
- Extreme fatigue
- Eye inflammation
- Joint pain
- Blood in your stool
- Appetite loss
- Weight loss
The precise cause of irritable bowel disorder is also unknown, but the following influencers may play a role in the development of the condition:
Immune system malfunction: When the immune system gets activated because of an invasion, this response causes the immune system to attack the “good” cells in the digestive tract, too.
Family history: If one of your close relatives has the disease, you might be at risk.
Smoke: Cigarette smoking may cause Crohn’s disease and make the symptoms worse.
Anti-inflammatory drugs: Ibuprofen (Advil), naproxen sodium (Aleve), diclofenac sodium (Voltaren), and others, may increase the risk of developing irritable bowel disorder or make symptoms worse.
IBS vs. IBD: What’s the Difference in These Common Bowel Conditions?
The main difference between irritable bowel syndrome and irritable bowel disorder is that the inflammation of IBD is not present in people with IBS. Some of the symptoms may be the same, but irritable bowel disorder has other symptoms that may be more debilitating (as seen in the list above).
As mentioned previously, you can have both conditions at the same time, and both are considered chronic conditions. Irritable bowel syndrome is more common than irritable bowel disorder. The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders estimates that IBS affects up to 15% of the population worldwide.
Most people can manage IBS symptoms following these lifestyle guidelines. Avoid or reduce:
- High-gas foods such as carbonated and alcoholic beverages, caffeine, and vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower.
- Gluten. Research shows a link between IBS and gluten. Some people with IBS reported improvement in diarrhea symptoms when they stopped eating gluten.
- FODMAPs (fermentable oligo-, di-, and monosaccharides and polyols) such as fructose, fructans, and lactose, that are found in certain grains, vegetables, fruits, and dairy products.
Medications that can ease specific IBS symptoms include laxatives or over-the-counter drugs (Imodium) to control diarrhea, Alosetron (Lotronex) to relax the colon, Rifaximin (Xifaxan), an antibiotic that can decrease bacterial overgrowth and diarrhea, and Lubiprostone (Amitiza) to increase fluid secretion in your small intestine and help with the passage of stool.
IBD may have more severe symptoms compared to IBS, so the treatments usually involve either drug therapy or surgery.
- Anti-inflammatory drugs include corticosteroids and aminosalicylates, such as mesalamine (Asacol HD), balsalazide (Colazal) and olsalazine (Dipentum).
- Immune system suppressors such as azathioprine (Azasan, Imuran) suppress the immune response that releases inflammation-inducing chemicals in the intestine.
- Antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin (Cipro) and metronidazole (Flagyl) are also used in addition to other medications or when infection is a concern.
- Surgery may be performed if lifestyle changes and other treatments do not work. In the case of ulcerative colitis, surgery consists of removing the entire colon and rectum using a procedure that eliminates the need to wear a bag to collect stool. In the case of Crohn’s disease, surgery involves removing a damaged portion of the digestive tract and then reconnecting the healthy sections. It is important to mention that surgery is not a long-term solution—the disease often recurs.
Certain foods and beverages can aggravate IBD symptoms, so keeping a diary of what you eat and how you feel after eating can be helpful. Give the following suggestions a try!
Diet: Many people with irritable bowel disorder report that symptoms such as diarrhea, cramping, and gas improve by eliminating dairy products—your body may not be able to digest the milk sugar (lactose). You may experience issues with gas-producing foods such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, nuts, seeds, corn, and popcorn.
Water: Drink plenty of water to help your bowel. Avoid alcohol, caffeinated, and carbonated drinks. Alcohol and beverages that contain caffeine can make diarrhea worse, while carbonated drinks produce gas.
Avoid smoking: Smoking increases the risk of developing Crohn’s disease, and if you already have the disease, smoking can make symptoms worse.
Control stress: The link between stress and IBD remains controversial, but many people with irritable bowel disorder report that the symptoms get worse during stressful times. Try relaxing techniques such as deep, slow breathing to calm down—yoga and meditation can help you cope with stress.
Vitamins: Crohn’s disease can interfere with the absorption of nutrients, so multivitamins and mineral supplements can be helpful. Chronic intestinal bleeding can cause anemia; in this case, iron supplements are recommended. The steroids used to treat Crohn’s disease can increase the risk of osteoporosis, so calcium supplements with added vitamin D may be helpful.
How to Treat IBD with Amino Acids
Studies show that amino acids can help patients with IBD. Inflammatory bowel disorders typically develop in two cyclical phases, called inflammatory flare and remission. Study results indicate that the quantity and quality of protein and amino acid supplementation may impact the IBD course according to the disease phases. The evidence suggests that amino acids have beneficial effects, including serving as building blocks for macromolecule synthesis in the mucosal area that gets wounded during the inflammatory episode.