Crohn’s Disease vs. IBS

Crohn’s disease affects more than half a million people in the United States, while anywhere from 10 to 15 percent of the population has irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The two conditions are very different, although they affect the same area of the body.

Crohn’s disease causes inflammation of the digestive system and can affect any area of the GI track, from the mouth to the anus, although it most often affects the end of the small intestine and the start of the colon. Crohn’s disease is included in a group of conditions collectively known as inflammatory bowel disease.

Symptoms of active Crohn’s disease include diarrhea, abdominal cramping, bloody stool, fever, and fatigue. Reduced appetite and weight loss are also symptoms of Crohn’s disease, which can only be diagnosed by a doctor. Research is mixed, but there may be a link between Crohn’s disease and later development of colorectal cancer.

Complications from Crohn’s disease may include ulcers on the walls of the intestine, holes in the bowel, abscess in the abdomen, pelvis or anal area, or even a narrowing of the intestine caused by scarring. Individuals with Crohn’s disease may not absorb nutrients properly.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is not the same as irritable bowel disease, IBD, which is the category of conditions into which Crohn’s disease falls. IBS does not cause inflammation, but does involve a change in bowel function.

Symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation, or some combination of the two. Many individuals can control IBS with medication and changes in diet. Stress and hormones may trigger episodes of IBS. This chronic condition does not increase one’s risk for colorectal cancer or cause changes in bowel tissue, unlike Crohn’s disease and related conditions.

Doctors can determine whether the symptoms one is experiencing are from IBS or Crohn’s disease and develop a treatment plan that helps a patient to control his or her symptoms.