Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, can usually be controlled with diet and lifestyle changes, and it doesn’t do lasting damage. That’s not the case for inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD.
Everyone experiences digestive discomfort now and again—but for some people, cramping, bloating, gas, constipation, or an urgent need to “go” is more a state of being. And obviously, it’s, not a pleasant one.
These chronic symptoms are usually signs of a large intestine disorder called irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS. It’s most common digestive complaint, affecting up to 15% of people worldwide. While it can be extremely uncomfortable, it can usually be controlled with diet and lifestyle changes, and it doesn’t do lasting damage.
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That’s not the case for inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, which is sometimes confused with IBS. IBD can cause rectal bleeding, malnutrition, and may even lead to cancer later in life. The diagnosis encompasses two specific conditions: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Just 1.3% of Americans are diagnosed with IBD. They typically need medication to treat the condition. In fact, many also need surgery: Up to one-third of people with ulcerative colitis and up to three-quarters of people with Crohn’s disease will need to have damaged sections of their bowel removed.
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Because of these vast differences in the consequences and treatment of IBS and IBD, it’s important to get the right diagnosis so you can work with your doctor to determine the best course of action. If you have any persistent digestive symptoms, talk to your doctor about what could be causing them, especially if you notice blood in your stool. Watch the video above for more on how to tell IBS and IBD apart.