IBD (General)

IBS vs IBD: How can I tell the difference?

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So, you’re experiencing symptoms that could be IBS or IBD, but you aren’t sure exactly what it is.

Since both IBD and IBS both involve abdominal discomfort, this confusion is completely normal. Both IBD and IBS affect your digestive system and your gut and they share many of the same symptoms. However, they are quite different from each other in many ways, including how each condition impacts your body in the long-run.

Your GP may have already diagnosed you with one or both of these conditions (as yes, you can have both at the same time). This article will help you learn some of the key differences between IBS and IBD and what that means for you. 

What is the difference between IBS and IBD?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a non life-threatening condition that affects the digestive tract and is not an issue of the immune system. It can be caused by many different things and involves a variety of symptoms, including diarrhoea, constipation, stomach cramps and bloating. Symptoms of IBS tend to affect individuals throughout their life and there is currently no cure. However, there are ways to improve IBS symptoms, through different lifestyle changes and medications. At this time, IBS is not believed to have a genetic factor and is a quite commonly diagnosed condition.

When looking at Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), the focus is mainly on the two main long-term chronic inflammatory conditions, Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative colitis (although there are other sub-diagnoses). IBD is different from IBS, as IBD can become life-threatening and is less common than IBS. IBD is a result of a problem with the immune system that causes inflammation to the bowel wall and can lead to the intestines to become narrowed or developing sores. Having IBD can increase your chances of having colon cancer, which is not the case with IBS.

Some symptoms of IBD are quite similar to symptoms of IBS, which include: tiredness and fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss, anaemia, and a feeling of being unwell (among a few others).

Can IBS ever turn into Crohn’s or colitis?

 No – IBS as a condition does not develop into IBD. In fact, people who live with IBS aren’t even more likely to also have IBD than anyone else. For those with IBS, their condition is not visible through things like scans, and in simple terms, they have a digestive tract that doesn’t function well. While those with IBD have clear inflammation of their intestine and this causes further issues. However, it is possible to have both conditions at the same time and if you think that this may be the case for you, make sure you speak with your healthcare team.

How do I know if I have IBS?

To receive a diagnosis of IBS, the first step to take is to make an appointment with your GP. Your GP will ask you about your symptoms, their frequency, their timing and how long you have been experiencing them. Your GP may test your blood and stool for other factors that may be causing your symptoms. By testing your stool, your GP will also be able to check to see if what you are experiencing could be symptoms of IBD inflammation markers. 

How do I know if I have IBD?

If you are wondering if you have IBD, as with any other medical condition, the first step to take is to make an appointment with your GP for an initial conversation. Your GP may decide that it is best to carry out tests such as an endoscopy or colonoscopy, as well as other less invasive tests. They may also ask for a stool sample, as this will help check for infections and can help to confirm if you have IBD or not. 

I was just diagnosed with IBD, what do I do now?

If you do get a positive diagnosis of IBD, whether it is is for Crohn’s disease or Ulcerative Colitis, a good first step is to find a healthcare provider that specialises in your condition. This way, you can begin a treatment plan as soon as possible and begin to improve your present and future with IBD.

IBD is an inflammatory condition, which means it is often possible to reduce symptoms by managing your lifestyle to reduce sources of inflammation. There are so many resources available to support you on that journey. For example, the My IBD Care app.

My IBD Care is our IBD management app. It is available on iPhone and android and you can use whenever you need to. It offers expert-led courses that help teach you about various aspects of your condition, with a focus on how to improve your lifestyle and wellbeing. It also offers a library of resources, including some from Crohn’s and Colitis UK. Additionally, by having the My IBD Care app, you are automatically a part of Ampersand Health Hub – which includes a monthly wellness guide sent directly to your email, where you can register for monthly events (such as live Q&A sessions with clinicians, Community Meetups and more!). 

If you are looking for some more information or resources on IBS and IBD, we have provided a few of our favourites below. 

Useful Resources to Check out:

  1. Top 8 things to do after a Crohn’s or Colitis diagnosis (Crohn’s and Colitis UK)
  2. Treatments (Crohn’s and Colitis UK) 
  3. Finding an IBD Nurse Specialist (Crohn’s and Colitis UK) 


Have questions about how Ampersand Health and My IBD Care and play a role in your health and wellbeing journey with IBD? Email us at sarah@ampersandhealth.co.uk and we would be happy to chat.


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