Digestive Discomfort: How To Differentiate IBS And IBD

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Stomach pain in the form of painful cramps, bloating, and so on is something that virtually everyone has experienced before. However, if these symptoms occur regularly, there is a good chance that you have a chronic condition. The two most common causes of digestive discomfort are irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease.

Despite having somewhat similar names, these conditions are not one and the same. To get an accurate diagnosis during an online medical consultation, you must first have a good grasp of all your symptoms to help your healthcare provider better figure out what is going on in your gut and how to fix it.

Differentiating between IBS and IBD

Inflammation is what occurs when the body’s immune system defends against foreign invaders, and it is what separates the two conditions mentioned, with IBD being the only one involving inflammation.

An inflammatory bowel disease is a group of autoimmune diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Thus, having IBD means your immune system is mistakenly attacking your body and causing chronic inflammation. And while your intestines are the primary victim of this disease, the inflammation can also attack other areas of the body like the joints, skin, and eyes since it is a systemic inflammatory condition.

In contrast, IBS does not involve inflammation and is not a disease but rather a group of symptoms. IBS stems from the two-way chemical and physical connection between the gut and brain. A dysfunction in this gut-brain axis affects the digestive tract and how fast it moves food through the intestines. Fortunately, it does not cause physical symptoms anywhere else in the body. While IBS is far from being a non-issue, it is better in the sense that it does not threaten your overall health, unlike IBD.

Symptoms of IBS and IBD

Since IBS and IBD are digestive conditions, some of their symptoms will overlap, making it harder to identify which one you are dealing with. The symptoms common to both conditions are:

  • Urgent bowel movements
  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation
  • Gassiness and bloating
  • Cramping and abdominal pain

Symptoms specific to IBS include:

  • Frequent bowel movement changes (i.e. being constipated one day and having diarrhoea the next).
  • Symptoms triggered by large meals or stress.

On the other hand, IBD-specific symptoms involve:

  • Bleeding from the rectum or bloody stools
  • Anaemia or insufficient healthy red blood cells in the body
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Rashes
  • Joint pain
  • Eye inflammation

Can you have both issues at the same time?

The quick answer to this question is yes, you can experience IBS and IBD simultaneously. This is because while IBD does not directly cause IBS, healthcare providers believe that having it increases your risk of getting IBS. On the other hand, there is no evidence of IBS increasing your risk of IBD. But with that said, experts have yet to fully determine the causes of these health issues.

Treating and managing symptoms

Unfortunately, IBS and IBD are not curable and can only be treated through different approaches. For IBS, treatment entails avoiding triggers and simply tending to its symptoms, while IBD requires controlling the inflammation and treating the damage it causes.

How to manage IBS symptoms

Your specific symptoms will determine the best ways to manage IBS, with the common treatments being:

1. Adopt dietary and lifestyle changes

Your doctor may recommend switching to a low FODMAP diet that excludes food groups known to trigger IBS. In addition, they may have you prioritise good sleep habits and more regular exercise, as some people report these changes help them find relief from IBS.

2. Medication

There is no one medicine that targets all symptoms of IBS. Antibiotics can alleviate severe diarrhoea caused by IBS, while antispasmodic medications can help with intestinal spasms.

3. Antidepressants and psychological therapy

Maintaining your mental health and reducing stress is known to reduce flare-ups of IBS symptoms.

How to treat IBD

Managing the body’s inflammatory response is the main goal of IBD treatment, along with repairing the damage it causes. Medication is the way to achieve this, but surgery may be necessary to address complications caused by the inflammation and to remove damaged tissues. Some of the medicines used to treat IBD are:

  • Anti-inflammatories: Reduces inflammation in the intestines.
  • Immunomodulators: Prevents ongoing inflammation by the immune system.
  • Corticosteroids: Best for short-term prevention of flare-ups and management of the inflammatory process.


Abdominal pain is already a handful to deal with, and it becomes even more daunting once it turns out to be a chronic condition. IBS and IBD are the two foremost causes of constant gastrointestinal issues and will require a proper diagnosis and treatment to find relief.

If you have been experiencing chronic gastrointestinal symptoms lately, don’t hesitate to get a virtual consultation with a doctor today using the MYCLNQ app. MYCLNQ is the leading app for telemedicine in Singapore that lets you access key medical services at the palm of your hand, from doctor consultations over video to supervised COVID-19 home testing. Contact us today to learn more about the medical services you can access on your phone!

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