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Tummy trouble

IBS and IBD sound and often act similar, but are actually quite different.

Article Author: Vikki Mioduszewski

Article Date:

photo for Tummy trouble article

Do you have constant pain in your stomach and bloating? Do you often find excuses to avoid going out to eat with friends and family for fear of how your stomach will react?

You may have heard of these conditions if you have stomach or colon problems: irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). They are similar in nature in that they both cause stomach pain, abdominal cramping, bloating, diarrhea or constipation, and can be tricky to diagnose. But they do have distinct differences as well.

Take IBS. Often called spastic colon, this condition is commonly seen by primary care physicians and gastroenterologists, with about 10 to 15% of the population experiencing IBS symptoms.

Making a diagnosis

Sometimes a person may be initially diagnosed with IBS, but it’s later determined through a colonoscopy or endoscopy (exams that view the colon and gastrointestinal tract) and other imaging studies that they actually have IBD.

IBD includes two very serious GI conditions:  Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Both result in chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract and can cause tissue damage. Crohn’s often affects different areas throughout the intestinal tract while ulcerative colitis is generally found in the large intestine and rectum.

About 1.3%, or 3 million adults in the U.S., were diagnosed with IBD in 2015.

IBD red flags

Some red flags people should watch out for with IBD, include:

  • Persistent diarrhea
  • Blood in your stools or black stools
  • Weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Progressively worsening symptoms
  • Fatigue

IBD requires ongoing treatment and monitoring. Severe IBD may also require surgery. 

“IBD is more concerning because it is a disease of the gastrointestinal tract,” said Patricia McFall Calhoun, MD, a family physician with Baptist Primary Care. “It can take a while to diagnose.  If your symptoms are not getting better, it’s important to be diligent and follow up with your physician for further testing or referral to a gastroenterologist.”

Also, she added, “IBD is definitely more concerning because it increases the risk for colon cancer.

Dr. Calhoun will generally order blood work and stool tests to help in the diagnosis.  

Adjusting your diet

Steps that can help with IBS include:

  • Trying an elimination diet to determine if specific foods aggravate symptoms
  • Taking probiotics
  • Testing gluten-free products
  • Using adequate fiber in your diet
  • Avoiding gas-inducing foods such as beans

“A heart-healthy diet with regular exercise and adequate sleep are vital components to disease prevention and continued wellness,” Dr. Calhoun said. “Inadequate sleep can also cause you to experience more stress, which can definitely aggravate IBS symptoms.”

Stress, anxiety and depression can contribute to IBS. Antispasmodic medications, on the other hand, are used to reduce intestinal spasms and may help alleviate symptoms.

 “These conditions can impact a person’s ability to eat out or perform their regular routines because of a constant fear that their GI symptoms may flare up at any time,” Dr. Calhoun said. “Both IBS and IBD can be distracting because people are worried about what their stomach is doing instead of attending to what they need to at the time. Patients can feel nervous and embarrassed as they constantly look for or have to run to a bathroom.”

If you’re not sure about the symptoms you’re having, contacting your primary care doctor is an important first step. To learn more about services from Baptist Primary Care, contact 904.202.4YOU (4968)

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