Understanding the Difference: Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

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IBS: Migraine of the Gut?

UW Health Digestive Health Services physicians in Madison, Wisconsin, diagnosis and treat patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a common, non-chronic gastrointestinal disorder, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), the term used to describe a variety of digestive diseases.


Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Vs. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)


Irritable bowel syndrome can be confused with the more severe, chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The two disorders may share symptoms but are not the same.

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is not a disease. It is a syndrome, meaning a group of symptoms including some combination of abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation. In patients with IBS, the contents of the colon either move too quickly, causing fluids to be absorbed too slowly and resulting in diarrhea, or too slowly, causing fluids to be absorbed to quickly and resulting in constipation. It is a functional gastrointestinal disorder that is most often treated with changes in diet, stress management and medicine. If you are unsure of your diagnosis, speak with your primary care physician to request a referral to a UW Health gastroenterologist.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a term used to describe a variety of diseases, including Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, pouchitis and microscopic colitis. Inflammatory bowel disease patients are seen with physician referral to the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Clinic.

More About Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

  • People with IBS often experience a relief of symptoms with a bowel movement
  • IBS is often characterized by a change in the number of bowel movements, a change in how the resulting stool looks, problems with bowel movements and bloating
  • Bleeding, fever, weight loss, and persistent severe pain are not symptoms of IBS and may point to other problems

  • IBS has no cure but treatments have proven effective and may include changes in diet, fiber supplements or laxatives and prescription medications to decrease diarrhea and control muscle spasms
  • Careful eating may reduce IBS symptoms. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables are good sources of fiber, and high-fiber diets may help prevent spasms

  • IBS is not related to Crohn's disease nor does it cause cancer

More About Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)