Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Similarities and Differences

Many diseases and conditions can affect the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which is part of the digestive system and includes the esophagus, stomach, small intestine and large intestine. These diseases and conditions include inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Inflammatory bowel diseases are a group of inflammatory conditions in which the body’s own immune system attacks parts of the digestive system. The two most common inflammatory bowel diseases are Crohn’s disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (UC). IBD affects as many as 1.4 million Americans, most of whom are diagnosed before age 35. There is no cure for IBD but there are treatments to reduce and control the symptoms of the disease.

Irritable bowel syndrome is a condition that affects the function and behavior of the intestines. Normally, the muscles lining the intestines intermittently contract and relax to move food along the digestive tract. In IBS, this pattern is disturbed, resulting in uncomfortable symptoms. More than 40 million people are affected by IBS. It is important to remember that patients with IBD can also have IBS.

Many people experience only mild symptoms of IBS, but for some, symptoms can be severe. Symptoms can include cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, mucus in the stool, diarrhea and/or constipation. Similar to IBD, IBS is characterized by times when symptoms are present and times when little or no symptoms are present. Unlike IBD, IBS does not cause inflammation, permanent damage to the GI tract or an increased risk of colorectal cancer.

Jennifer Heipel has approximately 12 years of experience working as a hepatology nurse/clinical research coordinator for several gastroenterologists, hepatologists, infectious diseases and addiction specialists. She is trained in the treatment of Hepatitis B and C therapies as well as general hepatology and pre/post liver transplant follow up. Jennifer serves as Charlton Health’s full time Hepatology Nurse and manages the Hepatology Program. She has worked and continues to work with Dr. Puglia at McMaster University and other area Gastroenterologists to develop a comprehensive, in-house Hepatology program and Hepatitis C program here at Charlton Health.

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