Are you worried that your Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) may be something else? You’re not alone! I used to worry about this too and so did many of my clients. The key to making sure that your IBS is not another medical condition is to NOT self-diagnose and get a proper diagnosis from your doctor so that you can start implementing the right strategies for you to find relief from your gut symptoms.
The key reason for this is because there are a few medical conditions that can have similar symptoms to IBS and can therefore be mistaken for IBS. An example of this is Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). Although they share some similar symptoms including bloating, constipation, diarrhoea and excessive wind. The key difference is that no actual damage or inflammation occurs throughout the gut in IBS.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
IBS is a functional bowel disorder and a disorder of the gut-brain axis. This means that your gut is, not working the way that it should and that your gut and your brain are not communicating properly (it’s not all in your head!). This causes your gut to be more sensitive and leads to a higher response to things like hormonal changes, food and drink, medications and lifestyle factors.
It is characterised by chronic abdominal pain, bloating and changes in bowel habits without any visible signs of damage or inflammation in the digestive system and symptoms mainly occur in the large intestine. While the exact cause of IBS is not fully understood, it is believed that a combination of factors may contribute to its development including abnormal gastrointestinal motility, visceral hypersensitivity and altered gut microbiota.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Whereas IBD is a group of chronic inflammatory conditions that can affect the entire length of the gastrointestinal tract. The two main types of IBD are Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Both conditions are associated with inflammation and damage to the lining of the digestive system. This can cause symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhoea, and rectal bleeding.
Symptoms that can be “red flags” for IBD that do not occur in IBS are:
Inflammation throughout your gut
Iron deficiency anaemia
Unexplained weight loss
These conditions can quite often overlap and around 40% of people with IBD will also have IBS. Therefore, while some of the symptoms of IBS and IBD may be similar, there are important differences between the two conditions. These include the underlying cause of each condition, the diagnostic criteria used and treatment approaches.
The good news is that both conditions can be managed well through diet and lifestyle strategies (and in some cases medications for IBD) so you can live a completely normal life that is not controlled by debilitating guy symptoms.
This is why it is important to chat with your doctor as they can help differentiate between the two conditions to ensure you receive an accurate diagnosis. It is also crucial that you get the support of a specialised IBS and gut health dietitian (like me) to develop a personalised management plan that is tailored to your specific symptoms and individual needs.
Self-treating IBS and IBD without medical advice can be ineffective and potentially harmful, as it can lead to a delay in diagnosis or the use of unproven or unsafe treatments.