IBS & IBD


Welcome to our information page on IBS and IBD.

We hope you find this information useful.  If there's anything you'd like to add or if you have any questions please ask.


+What's the difference between IBS and IBD?

IBS is Irritable Bowel Syndrome.  A syndrome is a collection of commonly related symptoms, in this case including bloating, nausea, cramps, diarrhea, lethargy, and others.  IBS does not cause any structural damage to the gastrointestinal tract.  IBS is typically treated with dietary and lifestyle changes.

IBD is Inflammatory Bowel Disease.  The most common types are Crohn's (which can present anywhere in the GI tract) and Ulcerative Colitis (which only affects the large intestine).  The symptoms can be very similar to IBS, but since IBD causes structural damage to the GI tract its symptoms can also include bleeding, ulceration, scarring, and related complications such as anemia and nutrient deficiencies.  In some more severe cases it can also lead to malnutrition or osteoperosis.  IBD is typically treated with medication, dietary and lifestyle changes, and in more severe cases surgery.

In short, the way IBS and IBD present can be very similar, but the reasons behind the symptoms and the long term implications are very different.  If you have any symptoms that you think fit the profile you should speak to your doctor right away.  Keeping a diary of symptoms can be really helpful for to show your practitioner, particularly if you include information about what you ate and drank.

+How many people have IBS and IBD?

Roughly two in every ten people in the UK has IBS, which means approximately 14 million people.  Many of those are not diagnosed, either because their symptoms are very mild or infrequent, or because they haven't sought help because they didn't think it was a medical issue.

Approximately one in every two hundred people in the UK has IBD, which translates to around 300,000 people.

+How do I know if I have IBS or IBD?

The symptoms of IBS and IBD can be very similar, and also overlap with symptoms of other conditions like SIBO, FODMAP intolerance, coeliac disease, and non-coeliac gluten sensitivity.  For this reason it is strongly recommended that you keep a diary of what you eat, what you drink, and any symptoms you experience.  Taking this evidence to your doctor or registered dietician will make it much easier for them to help you.

If you have any red flag symptoms such as unexplained weight loss, bleeding, change in bowel habit, any new lumps or bumps, anemia, or a family history of bowel cancer, then you must see your doctor immediately.

There are various tests that your doctor can do to try and identify problems, or at least rule them out.  At the end of the day you know your body best and if you think something is wrong then you should speak to your doctor.  It can sometimes take a while to get an accurate diagnosis so be prepared, but it's worth it in the end!

+Is it possible to have both IBS and IBD?

Yes.  It is also possible for people with IBS and/or IBD to have one or more other contitions at the same time such as SIBO, coeliac disease, non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, a food allergy, or FODMAP intolerance.

The fact that the symptoms overlap so much for these conditions can make it very hard to say exactly what the problem is.  If you have symptoms of any of these conditions it is really important that you talk to your doctor or a registered dietician to make sure you have the right information for your needs.  Keeping a diary of what you eat and drink along with any symptoms you experience will help your doctor or dietician enormously, so do keep one if you can.

+I think I might have IBS but I don't want the hassle of going to my doctor. Can't I just try fixing it myself?

We understand that it can be daunting trying to figure out why you don't feel well, but speaking to your doctor or a registered dietician really is the best and safest place to start, and you should talk to them before making any major dietary changes.

If you have any red flag symptoms such as unexplained weight loss, bleeding, change in bowel habit, any new lumps or bumps, anemia, or a family history of bowel cancer, then you must see your doctor immediately.

If your symptoms are less severe then there are still several very useful tests your doctor can do to help rule some things out, for example testing for coeliac disease.  Around 500,000 people in the UK are estimated to have coeliac disease without knowing it, which can lead to very serious long term complications.  Going gluten free before getting tested for coeliac can make your test results inaccurate.

There are many other conditions besides coeliac disease that have similar symptoms, so it makes sense to speak to your doctor rather than trying to guess at random what you think the problem might be.  Remember that they will find it much easier to help you if you bring them a diary of what you eat and drink and any symptoms you experience.

+Where can I learn more?

For more information or for help and support with IBS or IBS be sure to speak to your doctor or a registered dietician. You may also like to read the following resources:

NHS - IBS

NHS - IBD

The IBS Network

 Crohn's & Colitis Foundation (IBD)