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Abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, and general digestive discomfort seriously interfere with your quality of life. All of these symptoms can accompany a number of conditions, particularly irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). 

Just because these conditions have similar symptoms does not mean they’re the same. In fact, they require very different treatments and can have different effects on your long-term health and well-being. 

At Digestive Disorders Associates in Annapolis, Gambrills, and Chester, Maryland, our team of talented gastroenterologists can help you with both conditions so you live the healthiest, most normal life possible.

About IBS

IBS usually presents with chronic diarrhea, constipation, or both. Patients feel gassy and bloated. Flare-ups of IBS cause serious disruption to daily life, interfering with work and the ability to socialize and travel. 

Affecting the small intestine and the colon, IBS is what’s known as a functional gastrointestinal disorder, indicating that bowel function is disturbed. IBS sometimes presents alongside other functional disorders, like chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia.

IBS affects women more often than men. It often starts in late adolescence or early adulthood, usually during times of deep stress. 

About IBD

Inflammatory bowel disease is a group of diseases, namely ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, that cause diarrhea, abdominal pain, fatigue, rectal bleeding, and weight loss. 

Flare-ups of IBD are debilitating and sometimes lead to life-threatening complications, like bowel obstruction, malnutrition, blood clots, colon cancer, and skin, eye, and joint inflammation. 

Crohn’s disease attacks anywhere along the gastrointestinal system between the mouth and the anus, but is most often found at the end of the small intestine and upper part of the large intestine. 

Ulcerative colitis only affects the innermost lining of the colon, causing inflammation and bleeding. 

Most people with IBD are diagnosed before the age of 30, but some people don’t develop it until they reach 50 or even 60. IBD has a genetic component, so if someone in your family has the disease, you’re at greater risk.

The difference between IBD and IBS

IBD is a disease, while IBS is classified as a syndrome, or a group of symptoms. IBD causes inflammation and may cause permanent harm to your intestines, but IBS doesn’t cause inflammation. Unlike IBD, you rarely need hospitalization or surgery with IBS. 

IBD causes damage to your digestive tract that’s viewable during diagnostic imaging, but IBS does not cause long-term damage. IBD increases your risk of colon cancer while those with IBS have no higher risk than the average person. 

How treatments for IBS and IBD differ

Treatment for IBD includes many approaches, depending on your particular symptoms and which part of your digestive tract is affected. 

IBD has an autoimmune component, so we may prescribe immune system suppressors to stop the immune response that releases the inflammation-inducing compounds that irritate your body. Anti-inflammatory medications like corticosteroids and aminosalicylates may also be recommended.

Antibiotics are used if an infection is suspected. You may require a specialized diet if you have severe weight loss. A feeding tube, for example, may be given if your bowel needs to rest to reduce chronic inflammation. Certain dietary precautions, like avoiding fiber when you’re having a flare-up, may also help your symptoms. Smaller meals and avoiding trigger foods, which we can help you identify, are also strategies to help you manage IBD.

When lifestyle changes and drug therapy are unable to relieve IBD symptoms and possible long-term damage, surgery may be required. The type of surgery you need depends on your case and the form of IBD you have. 

Treatment for IBS focuses on lifestyle changes to manage your symptoms and avoid flare-ups. We can help you figure out foods that make symptoms worse and develop a diet to avoid them. Some dietary suggestions include avoiding gas-promoting foods, like carbonated beverages and certain vegetables and fruits. 

Gluten can also make IBS symptoms worse for some people. FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols) are certain harder-to-digest carbs found in certain grains, vegetables, fruits, and dairy products that aggravate IBS in some people; we can help you with a low-FODMAP diet to ease symptoms of IBS.

Keeping up with your fiber intake, drinking plenty of fluids, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep are important ways to keep stress to a minimum and your IBS symptoms at bay.

We may also recommend fiber supplements or laxatives if you have trouble with constipation. Anti-diarrheal medicines help IBS sufferers who have chronic diarrhea. 

Certain medications that relax the colon, reduce muscle contractions, and ease intestinal spasms may be prescribed to bring you relief. 

Serious, chronic digestive symptoms should never be ignored. You need a qualified provider to diagnose your condition so you get the right care and avoid complications to restore a more normal quality of life. Our doctors at Digestive Disorders Associates are ready to help. Call today or use the online scheduling tool to set up your appointment

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