Are you feeling a little “off” in your digestion? You should ask your doctor about Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD). IBS and IBD are very different conditions. The symptoms may be similar, but there are many important distinctions.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

IBS is a fairly common condition. Symptoms can include abdominal pain, abdominal cramping, bloating, gas, and diarrhea or constipation (or both).  Symptoms do not include vomiting or changes in the stool like blood or mucus. IBS tends to be chronic, and it can be challenging to pinpoint the causes. The most common causes are:

  • poor diet 
  • a food allergy or sensitivity
  • stress (usually attributed to excessive activity or busy lifestyle)
  • unbalanced bacteria in the gut or microbiome or SIBO

Having a family history of IBS, or having a sensitive stomach, can also contribute to experiencing IBS symptoms. And women are twice as likely to experience IBS due to hormonal irregularities in connection with the menstrual cycle. 

If IBS symptoms are experienced more than once a week, for two to three months, then we recommend consulting a physician. Especially if symptoms escalate to experiencing such things as dramatic weight loss, diarrhea in the middle of the night, rectal bleeding, vomiting, anemia, difficulty swallowing, or extended constipation.

There is usually nothing serious underlying IBS, and it can often be treated by righting the diet and managing stress. The GI microbiome can also be treated, as can hormones. But as we always say at Food Empowerment, ask your healthcare provider! 

Irritable Bowel Disease

IBD, on the other hand, is a change in the intestinal wall or intestinal integrity itself. IBD can take one of two forms: Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis.

Crohn’s Disease can affect any part of the digestive system, from the mouth to the rectal area, whereas Ulcerative Colitis is almost always found in the large intestine or rectum. Both conditions damage the intestinal lining, and the main symptom of this is persistent diarrhea. Those with IBD will also experience rectal bleeding, weight loss, and fatigue.

The most common cause of IBD is an immune dysregulation, wherein the immune system essentially becomes confused and attacks the intestinal lining as it would an infection. Often,  dysbiosis, or bacterial imbalance, exists that is a precursor to IBD. There is a strong genetic component to IBD predisposition as well. 

An experienced physician should help you manage treatment for IBD.


  • balancing the bacteria or microbiome with various medications
  • anti-inflammatory drugs
  • immune system suppressors
  • antibiotics.
  • nutritional support
  • diet changes
  • surgery

It should be noted that Celiac Disease is not the same condition as IBD, despite showing similar symptoms and also results in inflammation of the intestine. The cause for Celiac Disease is strictly an intolerance to gluten, whereas there is no single cause for Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis.

While diet plays a vital role in IBS and IBD, it is important to understand if your digestive symptoms require medical attention.  If you feel you may have IBS, IBD, or Celiac disease, there are options for you. Please contact your doctor for information on testing and treatment for IBS vs. IBD and Celiac disease.



–Ford AC, Sperber AD, Corsetti M, Camilleri M. Irritable bowel syndrome. Lancet. 2020 Nov 21;396(10263):1675-1688. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(20)31548-8. Epub 2020 Oct 10. PMID: 33049223.

–Mulak A, Taché Y, Larauche M. Sex hormones in the modulation of irritable bowel syndrome. World J Gastroenterol. 2014 Mar 14;20(10):2433-48. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v20.i10.2433. PMID: 24627581; PMCID: PMC3949254.

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