What's the Difference Between Crohn's Disease and IBS?

You have unusual bowel movements or diarrhea, excess gas and abdominal pain, and just find you can’t tolerate certain foods. You know something is wrong with your gut, but aren’t sure it’s IBD or IBS. While the acronyms are similar, they are two very different conditions.

Inflammatory bowel disease, IBD, usually refers to Crohn’s disease and other serious issues affecting the bowel, such as ulcerative colitis. While Crohn’s disease is rarely fatal, it can cause life-threatening complications.

Irritable bowel syndrome, IBS, is uncomfortable and affects the colon or rectum. You have dietary and stress triggers that aggravate unpleasant digestive symptoms, but the diagnosis isn’t going to contribute to long-term poor colon health or serious complications.

Why Crohn’s disease happens

Researchers aren’t 100% sure why certain people develop Crohn’s disease. Diet and stress aggravate the condition, but don’t cause it.

Sometimes people with Crohn’s disease are just part of an unlucky gene pool. Although in most cases of Crohn’s disease there’s no family history of the disease.

Crohn’s is considered a problem of your immune system. It’s surmised that when a specific type of virus or bacterium attacks, your body tries to fight it off and mistakenly attacks cells in the digestive tract, too.

Symptoms of Crohn’s disease

Crohn’s disease is diagnosed when your intestine is inflamed and ulcerated. Symptoms include:

Another key symptom is abdominal pain or a tender mass, particularly on the right side of the lower abdomen.

Crohn’s disease usually begins in the lower part of your small intestine and can affect any part of your digestive tract – including the esophagus, stomach, colon, and small intestine. The inflammation penetrates all layers of your bowel walls.

You may have abscesses in diseased parts of the bowel interspersed among areas that are perfectly healthy. This makes Crohn’s disease unique from ulcerative colitis, which usually involves inflammation of the colon that’s not interrupted.

About irritable bowel syndrome

IBS is fairly common, with anywhere from 25-45 million Americans suffering from it. The basic cause isn’t understood, but you suffer symptoms because your colon muscle contracts more readily than normal. Triggers for IBS include certain foods, stress, hormones, or other illnesses.

Symptoms of IBS may involve:

Rectal bleeding and black stool is not a symptom of IBS. You should seek immediate evaluation at our office if you experience possible blood in your stool.

Rest assured that IBS does not raise your risk of developing other serious issues of the digestive system, including colitis, Crohn’s disease, or cancer.

Evaluating your symptoms

At Digestive Disorders Associates, we take your symptoms seriously and do a thorough evaluation to determine if you have IBS, Crohn’s, or another condition. In addition to a review of your symptoms and medical history, we perform a thorough physical exam and run a number of tests, including blood tests, stool samples, CT scans, and endoscopy of the colon with possible biopsies.

When you’re diagnosed, our team works closely with you to make lifestyle changes, use medications, and create a diet that works for your system and keeps flare-ups to a minimum. Neither Crohn’s disease or IBS is curable, but we can help you manage them and experience a high quality of life. Call our office in Annapolis, Maryland, to schedule an appointment today. 

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