Irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease are two distinct gastrointestinal disorders. Both of these disorders may have different symptoms, but they can be difficult to distinguish because the symptoms can be so similar so it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis. IBS is often associated with constipation, cramping, bloating and diarrhoea. Meanwhile, IBD is associated with blood in the stool 

What is IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome is a condition that affects the intestines and causes abdominal pain, cramps, bloating, constipation or diarrhoea. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can cause a great deal of discomfort. Symptoms can range from mildly annoying to disabling, which negatively impacts a person’s life.

People with irritable bowel syndrome are more likely to have other functional disorders, such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and chronic pelvic or temporomandibular joint disorder.

Who gets IBS?

According to the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders:

  • 10 to 15% of adults in the UK suffer from IBS.
  • Women are usually more affected by the disease than men.
  • IBS, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome, is a disorder most commonly diagnosed by gastroenterologists.
  • It is one of the most common chronic diseases in the UK. 
  • The onset of symptoms typically occur in the late teens or early adulthood, often when a person is under emotional stress.

Comparing IBD and IBS

Classified as a diseaseClassified as a syndrome, defined as a group of symptoms
Can cause destructive inflammation and permanent harm to the intestinesDoes not cause inflammation; rarely requires hospitalization or surgery
The disease can be seen during diagnostic imagingThere is no sign of disease or abnormality during an exam of the colon
Increased risk for colon cancerNo increased risk for colon cancer or IBD
ibs ibd

What is the main difference between irritable bowel syndrome and irritable bowel disease?

Symptoms of IBS:

IBS is a medical condition that can cause a number of signs and symptoms. These may include:

  • Abdominal pain, cramping or bloating that is related to passing a bowel movement
  • Changes in appearance of bowel movement
  • Changes in how often you are having a bowel movement
  • Other symptoms that are often related include bloating, increased gas or mucus in the stool

Symptoms of IBD

Inflammatory bowel disease is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the digestive system, which can cause pain and discomfort. Symptoms vary depending on severity, but may range from mild to severe.

Signs and symptoms that are common to both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis include:

  • diarrhoea
  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Blood in your stool
  • Reduced appetite
  • Unintended weight loss
IBS stool colour 3

What is the difference between Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome?

Inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, is a disease that affects the bowel and other parts of the body. While Crohn’s disease isn’t fatal, it can cause life-threatening complications.

Irritable bowel syndrome is a digestive disorder that can have a wide range of unpleasant symptoms. It’s important to find out what triggers your symptoms, so you can better manage them or avoid them entirely.

What can be mistaken for IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition that is difficult to diagnose because it shares many of the same symptoms as other conditions. Your doctor will help you figure out what’s going on, but it helps to learn about stomach-related issues. 

  • Ulcerative Colitis

When your colon is inflamed, it’s hard to achieve regular bowel movements. Your symptoms may include watery diarrhoea and stomach pain. If the condition is not treated, your doctor may recommend a dietary change or medication, as well as surgery. 

  • Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s Disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that can affect any part of your digestive tract. It’s characterized by ulcers and inflammation in the gut, as opposed to ulcerative colitis which only affects the colon. Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel condition that can affect a child’s growth and development. The disease often runs in families, so if someone related to you has it, the odds go up that they will also have it.

  • Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance can be harmless, but it can still make you uncomfortable. Symptoms usually start within 30 minutes to 2 hours after having dairy foods and may include stomach pain, bloating, nausea, gas or diarrhoea.

  • Stress

It’s common to experience a variety of symptoms when you’re under stress. This could include your stomach slowing down food as it moves through your digestive system, which can lead to cramping or gas. If you have been experiencing stomach pain that doesn’t respond to traditional treatments, then ask your doctor about drug-free treatments like hypnosis and learning to relax.

  • Diverticulitis

Colonic pouches form when the muscular walls of your colon weakens. This can lead to inflammation or infection, which is called diverticulitis. If you have a mild case, you can try making lifestyle changes to treat it. If you don’t have a severe case, you can still make lifestyle changes to treat it. For instance, by getting adequate sleep and watching what you eat. If you have a mild case, you can heal it by making lifestyle changes. Lifestyle changes include getting more rest and watching what you eat.

  • Coeliac Disease

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition. If you have it, your immune system attacks the small intestine each time you eat gluten. A blood test can show if you’re more likely to get coeliac disease. If your doctor suspects you have coeliac disease, they’ll do a biopsy to confirm it. The only sure treatment is a gluten-free diet. Managing your condition is important so that you don’t cause any irreparable damage.

  • Gallstones

Your gallbladder is a small pear-shaped organ in your belly that stores bile. Bile helps you digest food. Sometimes, bile hardens into stones and may not cause symptoms unless they block something inside of you. Gallstones can cause abdominal pain on the right side of your abdomen, which may not be relieved by sitting. If you have a fever with chills or notice yellowing in your skin or eyes, contact your doctor immediately.

  • Pancreatitis

Your pancreas helps digest food before it is absorbed by the intestines. If it does not work properly, you may experience symptoms similar to IBS, such as diarrhoea, bloating, and abdominal pain. Depending on the cause and severity of pancreatitis, treatment may include painkillers, dietary changes, and surgery.

  • Endometriosis

Sometimes women’s endometrial cells begin to grow in other parts of the body. This includes your intestines. It causes symptoms such as irritable bowel syndrome, but it may be worse before and during menstruation. Another sign that you may have endometriosis is pain when you start to have a bowel movement or have sex. Some women also have rectal bleeding. Your doctor can diagnose intestinal endometriosis through different imaging tests. Sometimes you can control your symptoms with medicine. Your doctor may also recommend surgery.

  • Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth

The bacteria in our intestines help us digest food and maintain our health, but people with irritable bowel syndrome are more likely to carry too many of these bacteria. This can cause unresolved diarrhoea and weight loss.

  • Stomach Cancer

The symptoms of pancreatic cancer are similar to those of IBS, which is irritable bowel syndrome. And it can cause you to feel full and bloated.

ibs ibd

What foods trigger IBS attacks?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder that causes muscle contractions in the intestines. These foods can commonly trigger IBS symptoms:

  • Products which are rich in high-fiber such as cereals, grains, pasta and processed foods.
  • Foods which produces gas such as beans, lentils, carbonated beverages and cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower
  • Proteins such as Gluten that can be found in wheat, barley, rye and many processed foods
  • Fried foods can cause gas & bloating and people who have reflux are in high risk
  • People suffering from reflux should not touch spicy foods as it can worsen IBS
Author: Martin Cohen


ibs gut health clinic manchester martin cohen

After completing an extensive nutrition training program at the College of Naturopathic Medicine I now run two practices. One in Wilmslow, Cheshire and another in central Manchester.I am a member of the professional body BANT (British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy) and the CNHC. In addition, I have also reached the occupational standards of the NTC (Nutritional Therapy Council), which has strict codes of practise and ethics.

In such a developing and exciting field I am remain focused on keeping up with emerging research. My continued growth and development as a practitioner comes through peer-reviewed research and regularly attending accredited seminars and conferences around the country.