Colitis vs. IBS: Similarities and differences – Medical News Today

Colitis and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are separate conditions that both affect the gut. A person may develop both, but they require different treatments as the drugs for colitis will not successfully treat IBS. Some symptoms may appear similar, and both are likely lifelong conditions.
The similarity of the abbreviations IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and IBD (irritable bowel disease) may sometimes cause misunderstanding.
This article will look at colitis and IBS and how they differ in their symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.
Visit our dedicated IBD hub to learn more.
Both colitis and IBS affect the gut and can result in diarrhea and abdominal pain.
Colitis or IBS are both conditions that can affect people of any age, but symptoms may be more severe in younger people.
The International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders suggests that IBS is the most common digestive tract disorder, with 10–15% of people living with the condition.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that around 3 million adults in the United States had an IBD diagnosis in 2015.
Colitis and IBS can produce similar symptoms that may include the following:
Similarities between colitis and IBS include:
Differences between the two include:
Abdominal pain is a symptom of both IBS and colitis.
A person with IBS may experience stomach cramps, pain, and discomfort. They can relieve the pain by going to the bathroom and having a bowel movement. They may also feel bloated and have a lot of stomach gas.
A person with colitis also experiences abdominal pain, but this is due to gut inflammation. The pain could be from:
A person with colitis may also experience IBS symptoms.
A healthcare professional will use the following to diagnose IBS:
Diagnosis for colitis is typically the same. It will begin with a medical history as well as a physical examination. A person may consider sharing previous lab results or a summary of previous visits to a healthcare professional.
A person may undergo further testing of their stool samples and blood, and when a doctor has the results from these tests, they may request more detailed investigations of the intestines. These investigations may include:
IBS and colitis could both present as colon cancer, and a doctor will be able to rule this out.
Neither IBS nor colitis has a definitive cause.
Possible reasons for a person developing colitis may include:
A study on the global burden of disease examined IBD and found that between 1990 and 2017, the worldwide number of people living with IBD increased, particularly in newly industrialized countries.
A 2018 study looking at T-cells — part of the body’s immunity against foreign invaders — found that they play an important role in IBD.
A 34-year population study in Denmark found that the risk of developing IBD increased for up to third-degree relatives, which may include first cousins, great-grandparents, and great-grandchildren.
According to a 2018 study, an increase in bacteria and a decrease in protective bacteria in the gut biome may influence the development of IBD. People living with IBD were also more likely to have a decrease in gut biome diversity.
A 2017 study examined the views of people living with IBD and clinicians, including gastroenterologists, dietitians, and surgeons, on the role of diet in IBD.
Many individuals living with the condition agreed that their diet affected their IBD, and more than half felt that their medical professional did not agree that diet was important.
Gastroenterologists were more likely to recognize diet as having a role in the condition, and most of them reported giving dietary advice.
The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation suggests IBS does not have a lot of similarities with colitis when it comes to causes. The causes of IBS may include:
Often the first help for a person living with IBS is dietary advice, as food could be part of the cause of the condition.
A 2017 study linked the condition to alcohol, caffeine, and spicy food, including red chili. Advice includes reducing the consumption of fatty foods and taking care with dietary fiber.
If a person has lactose intolerance and also avoids dairy, they should consider other ways to include calcium in their diet.
The study also pointed to a lack of evidence on whether gluten may worsen IBS symptoms.
A 2018 study found a link between IBS and adults who do not regularly exercise.
A 2017 study suggested a person should follow a regular meal pattern without skipping meals. They should not eat large portions at mealtimes and ensure that they sit down, eat slowly, and chew food carefully.
A 2019 study in Frontiers in Microbiology found links between inflammation in the gut and IBS. The inflammation could be the result of infection, stress, or a problem with gut function.
Frontiers in Microbiology also cited a connection between the gut and brain, suggesting that anxiety and depression could have links to IBS. It said the brain is responsible for IBS symptoms that involve the hypersensitive nerves in the intestines, with stress being a large influence on the communication between the gut and brain.
A 2018 study links antibiotics with an increased risk of developing IBS after up to 4 months of treatment.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), treatment for IBS depends on the type of IBS that a person is living with.
If a person lives with IBS and has accompanying diarrhea, a healthcare professional may ask them to eat more fiber or avoid gluten. They may also advise them to do more physical activity, reduce their exposure to stress as much as possible, and ensure they get enough sleep.
A doctor may advise a person living with IBS and constipation to eat more soluble fiber. However, insoluble fiber, such as bran, will not help the condition. They may also advise a person to increase physical activity.
People widely use laxatives to treat constipation.
The NIDDK suggests that treatment for colitis will involve medication to help reduce inflammation.
Medication for colitis may include:
Natural remedies include:
Both IBS and colitis can affect a person’s quality of life and mental health. A person may undergo personalized treatment for both their mental and physical health.
A person living with IBS may find their treatment depends on the type of IBS. Symptoms can go into remission if a person improves their diet and reduces their stress.
Those living with colitis may find symptoms progress over time. Medication can become less effective, and a person may need surgery to manage symptoms and help them go into remission.
IBS and colitis are two different conditions. IBS is a syndrome that may have unpleasant symptoms, but the condition does not damage the colon and a person can typically manage their symptoms.
Colitis may be part of an IBD diagnosis. Individuals can manage colitis with conventional medication, natural remedies, or both. They may need surgery to relieve symptoms as the condition progresses.
Last medically reviewed on May 29, 2022