IBD and IBS: What’s the Difference?

This is the second in my series of short posts that explain the basics of IBS and Gut-Brain Psychology. In my last post, I offered some basic facts about IBS. You can check it out here.

Today’s post is about the difference between IBD and IBS. When I first became interested in the gut, I didn’t even realize these were different disorders. But despite their similar names and similar symptoms, which include abdominal pain, bloating, gas, cramping, and changes in bowel habits, these are different disorders with different treatment implications.

IBD is Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory Bowel Disease is a chronic condition that causes inflammation of the digestive tract. The two most common types of IBD are Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Crohn's disease can affect any part of the digestive tract, from the mouth to the anus. Ulcerative colitis only affects the colon.

IBD is considered an "organic" gut disorder because it has a physical or structural origin in the gastrointestinal tract.

IBD can be diagnosed by medical tests including bloodwork or scans.

IBS is Irritable Bowel Syndrome

The most important thing to know in order to understand IBS is that the brain and the gut are in constant communication, and the quality of that communication is critical to the quality of your digestion. IBS is caused by a problem in that communication. Unlike IBD, IBS doesn't cause any structural damage to the digestive tract. It's that communication breakdown that causes the symptoms of IBS.

So IBS isn't an organic disorder like IBD, it's a nervous system disorder.

IBS is often diagnosed based on symptoms after other conditions, including IBD, have been ruled out by medical tests.

The main takeaway here is that both IBD and IBS are real disorders. Just because IBS can't be detected with blood work or scans doesn't mean it's not real!

Treating IBD and IBS

IBD causes inflammation, and treatments for IBD include medications that reduce inflammation or in some cases, surgery. Left untreated, IBD can result in worsening symptoms and damage to your organs.

On the other hand, IBS won't damage your organs, but the symptoms can be quite significant - even debilitating. Treatment for IBS can include medications that help manage the symptoms, and can also include lifestyle changes and Gut-Brain Psychology.

Gut-Brain Psychology

Gut-Brain Psychology is a mind-body approach that can be helpful with both IBD and IBS as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. The reason it's particularly important for IBS is that IBS is a nervous system disorder, and mind-body psychological approaches are really good at targeting nervous system disorders.

In a nutshell, in IBS, the brain learns to interpret normal gut function as painful and dangerous, and gut-brain psychology can help retrain the brain for symptom relief and to restore healthy gut-brain communication.

The Importance of Diagnosis

I want to close by emphasizing that given the different treatments for these two conditions, if you're experiencing symptoms of IBD or IBS, it's crucial that you get diagnosed by a qualified physician.

As promised, I'm keeping these posts short. Feel free to reach out or comment if you have any specific questions or topics you'd like me to address.

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