How can you tell the difference between IBS & IBD?

How can you tell the difference between IBS & IBD?

Hello my lovely Comfizz readers!

April is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Awareness month. 

Something I get asked often on my instagram is:

"How can you tell the difference between IBS & IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease)?"

Back in October 2020, my friend Courtney & I did a post to summarise this, as you can see in the featured image above. 

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) & Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) are two different conditions and it is vital that the right diagnosis is made in order to have the best chance of managing and treating either condition.

IBS is classed as a functional gastrointestinal disorder meaning that the bowel function is disturbed. When examining the colon via tests, IBS usually doesn't show up as where as with IBD, the disease can usually be seen when carrying out diagnostic tests and imaging.

With either IBS or IBD, it is important to note that it varies from person to person. There is no set criteria and a "one size fits all" approach can't be taken. It depends very much on the individual and investigations & treatments will vary, as well as to what extent that person's life is affected. 

Living with IBS: Courtney's perspective

Courtney has IBS. I asked her to send over a little info on her life with IBS and here is what she had to say:

"I've had bowel problems for most of my life so I'd always assumed it was normal to be in pain and have very varied irregular bowel movements. It wasn't until I started to have lots of blood in my stool quite often that I finally decided to go to the doctors regarding it. Because of my family history I ended up having a colonoscopy with biopsies 2 weeks after speaking to the doctor. After this the doctor explained that with IBS it's more difficult to diagnose- how it works is you have to rule out what it's not to then get an IBS diagnosis. So I went through this process and in the end was diagnosed officially with IBS.
The main symptoms I experience is either being very constipated or having loose stools- there doesn't seem to be an in between with me, it's either one extreme or the other. I still do get blood in my stool as well as mucus. I get very intense pains and bloating. As well as urgency, I can go from not needing to go to having to run to the loo in seconds.
When I'm having a flare I tend to feel very poorly and get quite feverish which results in a loss of appetite and so a fluctuation in weight too.

One thing I wish people knew about IBS is how debilitating it can be. My life often revolves around knowing where the public toilets are and factoring toilet stops. I'm often unwell with it too- flares can last months for me so it can be a tough time. BUT I do want to add that I've been working on managing it and making my life easier when I flare (be with pain patches, medication, diet and looking after my mental health). If you are struggling or having any symptoms then please speak to a doctor."

I'm so lucky to be able to have Courtney as one of my closest friends. We "met" each other through Instagram in the bowel health & body confidence communities & I think she is an incredible human being. Thank you so much for agreeing to write something for me Courtney, it means a lot & it helps others, including myself, to get more of an education & understanding as to what you go through & how IBS & IBD can vary & what symptoms can differentiate the two.

Reducing & managing stress
Stress is a big factor known to make both IBS & IBD worse. In order to manage stress in our lives, it's usually useful to find the source & work from there. One way you can do this is by writing those things down & organising them by stresses you can control or have some control over vs those you can't. I've done this before & it helps put things into perspective & help me see ways in which I can make changes to alleviate some stress. It also helps me to see that a lot of the time, I am more in control than I feel when it comes to stress management.

Ways to reduce stress can be, but aren't limited to:
  • Sleep - getting adequate sleep is vital (easier said than done, right?) I find apps such as Headspace which have sleep sounds & take you through techniques such as visualisation can help.
  • Talk to a trusted friend & surround yourself with the right people where you can.
  • Exercise can help, even if it's just getting out for a walk around the block. On days where I struggle, sitting at a window getting fresh air or in the garden helps. Going for a drive with the window down also can help listening to my music.
  • Journalling.
  • Meditation - this isn't for everyone but is very useful for some.
  • Yoga - gentle yoga is a great way to do some low impact exercise. You can even search for yoga to manage stress and yoga that might help alleviate symptoms from either condition on YouTube. Try "Yoga With Adrienne."
  • Looking after yourself - self care is vital. 
  • Engaging with the online community. I've felt less alone thanks to social media and I make sure I don't engage with accounts that have a negative impact on my mental health.
  • Singing & song writing.
  • Hobbies such as baking or reading.
  • Arranging to see a therapist or talk to a doctor.

IBS & IBD: It's not a matter of who has it worse

They are both gut-related conditions & cause symptoms which vary in severity from person to person. BOTH conditions are just as valid, but are both very different from one another. You can also have IBS & IBD together.

The similarities between both are:⠀
- Both chronic gut conditions⠀
- Both can impair quality of life⠀
- Both are manageable but NOT curable⠀
- Both can have similar symptoms (but also different symptoms varying for each individual) ⠀

It's understandable how people may get confused between the two, but it's so important that we recognise & understand the differences properly. Both conditions should be recognised in isolation to one another. People who have IBS and/or IBD deserve the right support around them & it shouldn't be a case of who has it worse. Every person's individual circumstances have a right to be respected and nobody's pain is more valid than somebody else just because they think they might have it worse. It's all relative. To give you another analogy of how to look at this, whether someone drowns in a shallow pond or the sea, it's still drowning. The facts stay the same that they both suffered.

 Until next time,

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