CINCINNATI—Many people think that IBS and IBD are one in the same.
But UC experts say there are many differences between the disorders, and with proper diagnosis and treatment, people with the more serious of the two can experience a better, longer life.
Richard Rood, MD, a digestive diseases specialist with UC Physicians, says IBD—or Inflammatory Bowel Disease—is often confused with IBS, which is much different and less severe.
IBS—or Irritable Bowel Syndrome—is the most common functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorder with worldwide prevalence rates ranging from 9 to 23 percent and U.S. rates generally in the area of 10 to15 percent.
It causes cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, constipation and diarrhea, however, unlike IBD, it does not permanently harm the intestines and does not lead to more serious diseases, such as cancer.
“There are primarily two types of IBD: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis,” Rood says, noting that IBD occurs when the immune system attacks the GI tract. “Ulcerative colitis affects the inner lining of the colon while Crohn’s can inflame all layers of the intestinal wall.
“Also, Crohn’s disease can involve any section in the digestive tract while ulcerative colitis only affects the colon and rectum.”
Rood, not only an IBD expert but also a person living with ulcerative colitis, says that IBS is a syndrome, not a disease, and it will not lead to colon cancer nor does it cause intestinal bleeding.
“Patients with IBD experience recurrent abdominal pain, bloody stools and diarrhea, among other serious problems, like growth failure because of a lack of nutrients.” he says. “The onset of the illness usually occurs in a person’s teens or 20s, but it can affect infants all the way up to people in their 90s.”
He adds IBS can be controlled with diet, fiber supplements and medication while the treatment of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis involves medications that may have significant side effects. In addition IBD may require surgery and Crohn’s must be medically managed.
With National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month being observed in March, Rood, also an associate professor in the digestive diseases division at UC, says that people should take extra precautions to ensure that their symptoms aren’t part of a larger problem.
“Patients with IBD have a 10 percent increase of rectal, bowel or colon cancer for each decade since diagnosis,” he says.
He urges patients with any of the following symptoms to seek medical attention:
- Persistent or recurrent diarrhea, especially with blood, mucus or pus, and especially when it is associated with abdominal pain that is chronic and progressive over an extended period of time
- Reddening and inflammation of the eye
- Joint pain, usually in the large joints of the knees, ankles, elbows, wrists, and shoulders, which may migrate from one joint to another
- Skin lesions, including tender red nodules on the shins or calves
- Sores inside the mouth
- Weight loss
“IBD is a very serious disease that affects more than one million people in this country alone and could have tragic outcomes,” he says. “However, with proper—and prompt—diagnosis and treatment, patients can live a fulfilling life. Please, don’t ignore your symptoms or attribute them to something smaller. In addition, don’t be embarrassed to talk about your illness. You are not alone.”