• Dr. Caroline Ricker

IBS vs IBD: What’s the difference??

It’s very often that people get confused about IBS and IBD. Some often think they are basically the same thing called two different things, which isn’t the case but is an understandable mistake.

For me, while I understand the differences between the two, I often don’t really bother to think of them differently because they are often treated fairly similarly in my office.

Confused? Let me explain.

In westernized medicine, the big difference is inflammation. IBS stands for irritable bowel syndrome. A syndrome is a collection of symptoms with no apparent active disease process in the body. What that really means is they really just don’t know exactly what causes it. IBD on the other hand is called Inflammatory Bowel Disease and, because there are notable inflammatory changes in the lining of the colon, it can be classified as having a “cause” of the symptoms and therefor called a disease.

This never really made a whole lot of sense to me, as simply being able to see inflammation in someone’s bowel truly doesn’t really tell you what “caused” their issues, it just explains the symptoms. To find out what caused the issues, we’d have to ask WHY the bowel is inflamed in the first place. In functional medicine we call this the root cause approach.

So from this perspective, the biggest difference between IBS and IBD is likely time.

What I mean by that is simply that when we break it down to the root causes of both of these conditions, the biggest factor that differentiates IBS and IBD is how much time the person has had the root cause going on. Of course, I’m over simplifying. There are other differences that we consider when looking at treating these things, but this is the overlying main theme.

There is no “real” cause known for IBS. It is theorized that stress, food sensitivities and the like are large contributing factors to flare ups, but the fact is no one can say for certain why someone ends up with IBS. The same can really be said for IBD as well. Some will classify IBD as an autoimmune disease, meaning the body is causing the damage to itself. This, however, is just another deeper way of saying “we don’t know” because the cause of autoimmune disease is still largely a mystery to western medicine.

What we know in the world of functional medicine and alternative health is that both of these issues are marked by stress, dietary sensitivities, hereditary factors and other lifestyle choices that lead to chronic inflammation. This is the reason I say that time is likely the biggest difference between the two conditions. It may just be that someone dealing with Inflammatory Bowel Disease has been struggling with inflammation much longer than someone with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or perhaps have more heavy inflammatory factors.

I am of course not saying that these two things are the same. I merely hope to draw your attention to the fact that they may have extremely similar origins and that the “mystery” of cause in each is really not a mystery at all in the alternative healthcare world.

The next steps for anyone suffering with either IBS or IBD then, logically, is to find a doctor who will help you sort out which factors may be causing damage to your system and how to prevent those factors from continuing to cause more harm.

I always recommend functional medicine to start. This “root cause” approach uses no drugs, and cannot treat all medical conditions all the time, but has an excellent track record in being an awesome conservative first step. If we first try to discover a condition’s root cause, then we can often stop an illness in its tracks without having to resort to medications. Other cases may still require co-management with medications, yet have a much better prognosis of being able to stop using these medications eventually if we can still find out what’s leading the patient to need these medications in the first place.

Got questions about functional medicine? Check out our post about it here or feel free to contact us!

Dr. Caroline Ricker has been passionately helping people avoid unnecessary medications and surgeries since 2009. She combines a very logical functional medicine approach to digestive disorders and more using a more alternative holistic approach, utilizing standard lab tests and in-office evaluations as well as nutrition, acupuncture and homeopathy.

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