Gut conditions are becoming a growing concern in the United States with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) being two of the most common. IBS is estimated to affect between three and twenty percent of Americans while approximately 1.6 million Americans suffer from IBD.

Below we outline the signs of each condition, the difference between the two, and when to seek medical advice and treatment.

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a common disorder that affects the lower gastrointestinal tract. Unfortunately, the cause of IBS is still unknown and some experts believe that patients can experience the same symptoms associated with IBS but have different root causes. There is some speculation that people with this condition may have a more sensitive small intestine and/or colon, eliciting strong bodily reactions to normal digestive activity.

This condition has shown to affect women at a higher rate than men. IBS is also known by a variety of other names including spastic irritable colon, mucous colitis, and spastic colitis.

Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

A common symptom of IBS is abdominal pain, which may feel like cramping. In addition to cramping, patients with IBS typically experience at least two of the following:

  • Relief after a bowel movement
  • Changes in the frequency of bowel movements
  • Changes in the appearance of stool

Other common symptoms include:

  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation

Symptom flare-ups are a minimum of three months, occurring at least three days per month. The symptoms of IBS vary in severity and duration from patient to patient. Only a small percentage of people with this disorder experience severe symptoms.

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What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

Inflammatory Bowel Disease is the term for a group of intestinal disorders that cause prolonged inflammation of the digestive tract, one of the largest organs in the body. The digestive tract consists of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine. Because the digestive tract is responsible for the important roles of breaking down food, extracting the nutrients, and removing waste, when it is inflamed systemic issues can occur.

Inflammatory bowel disease is an umbrella term that includes many conditions, the two most common being Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC). The main difference between Crohn’s disease and UC lies in which the parts of the digestive tract each condition affects. Crohn’s disease can cause inflammation to any part of the digestive tract, most commonly the small intestine, while UC only involves the inflammation of the large intestine. Because of this, the symptoms of these two diseases vary slightly:

Symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Symptoms of Crohn’s consist of:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Bowel obstruction
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Anemia
  • Fatigue

Symptoms of UC consist of:

  • Rectal bleeding
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Inability to defecate
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss

The Difference Between IBS and IBD?

Both IBS and IBD are chronic conditions that cause abdominal pains, cramping, and frequent digestive issues. But despite having similar names and symptoms, these conditions are very different. IBS is a disorder of the gastrointestinal tract that is speculated to be caused by a variety of factors including genetics, environmental influences, and diet. In contrast, IBD is an autoimmune condition that is characterized by the inflammation or even destruction of the bowel wall, which can lead to sores and narrowing of the intestines. Thus, it is possible to have both IBS and IBD.

Seeking Treatment

Unfortunately, oftentimes a digestive problem is not detected until disease is diagnosed or the onset of severe symptoms appear. This can cause systematic strain on the body due to the fact that our digestive tract plays a very important role within our immune system as it wards off harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi. Our digestive health constitutes 75% of our immune system for fighting off disease. Poor digestive health not only diminishes the ability to fight disease, but it can also affect the function of your metabolism, which is needed for maintaining a healthy weight. The digestive system is also responsible for the absorption of food nutrients and vitamins, which our body requires to maintain optimal health. Moreover, scientific evidence indicates that our digestive system has a role in balancing our moods, the ability to handle stress, obesity, cholesterol levels, and heart dysfunction.

IBS and IBD will always need to be managed and although there is no cure for either condition, some people can control their symptoms by managing diet, lifestyle, and stress. More severe symptoms can be treated with medication and counseling.

Holtorf Medical Group physicians are trained to recognize digestive problems and implement effective treatments, which may include dietary changes, supplements, or other digestive aids. If you believe you have a digestive problem, contact us to speak with a team member today.

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