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IBS Versus IBD: What Is The Difference And How Can Diet Help?

Does your child suffer from gastrointestinal pain, bloating, diarrhea, or even vomiting episodes? Have you researched the symptoms or spoken with your pediatrician? You may have come across the terms IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and IBD (Irritable Bowel Disorder). These two gastrointestinal disorders can present with similar symptoms, so it may be confusing to decipher what’s really going on at first. However, there are distinct causes and ways of diagnosing them that determine whether a patient has IBS or IBD.

Irritable Bowel Disorder (IBD)

IBD is a term used for two specific gastrointestinal diseases.  One form of IBD is Crohn’s disease.

Symptoms– Painful “flare-up” episodes. The pain can occur anywhere in the gastrointestinal tract. The flare-ups cause diarrhea and sometimes vomiting, either of which may contain blood. These episodes may be accompanied by fever and/or fatigue. Weight loss can also occur.

Causes– A variety of factors that trigger an autoimmune, inflammatory response.

How it is diagnosed– A gastrointestinal doctor will perform a “scope” (endoscopy and colonoscopy) of the suspected areas affected in the gastrointestinal tract. This involves being sedated, having a tiny camera inserted into the gastrointestinal tract, and biopsies taken. The doctor can diagnose Crohn’s based on what he or she observes from these tests. If the inflammatory sites are located in patches or varying locations along the gastrointestinal tract anywhere from esophagus to anus, it is indicative of Crohn’s.

Treatment– During flare-ups, doctors will evaluate and may prescribe steroids, antibiotics, pain killers, and a modified diet that is low in fiber and other foods that may trigger inflammation such as lactose. In severe flare-ups, patients may be hospitalized and required to be on bowel rest, which means consuming nothing by mouth. When not having a flare-up, patients with Crohn’s are encouraged to eat a healthy diet with good sources of fiber. “Trigger foods” should also be avoided in general, which may include high fat or fried foods, excessive amounts of dairy, caffeine, and others.

The other form of IBD is Ulcerative Colitis.

Symptoms– Pain and cramping focused in the lower intestines. Diarrhea, sometimes with blood. Weight loss and fever can occur as a result of severe inflammation and diarrhea.

Causes– Inflammation that can be caused by a variety of factors and becomes chronic. Inflammation is in the colon and may progress continuously up the lower intestine.

How it is diagnosed– A gastrointestinal doctor will perform a colonoscopy with biopsies.

Treatment– Similar to treatment of Crohn’s.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

IBS is a bit more of an ambiguous condition than IBD, and can be difficult to identify and treat.

Symptoms– Abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea and/or constipation, general maldigestion and discomfort which may or may not be associated with eating any particular foods.

Causes– Definite causes of IBS are still unknown, but are currently being researched.

How it is diagnosed– IBS is diagnosed by closely tracking symptoms and ruling out all other diagnoses.

Treatment– Individualized modifications in diet and lifestyle which differ from person to person and may change over time. Some IBS sufferers trial “elimination diets” where common problematic foods are eliminated (such as wheat, dairy, corn, eggs, soy, etc.) to see if symptoms improve. Another recent diet therapy for IBS is the FODMAP diet, which eliminates high fructose corn syrup, some legumes, wheat, and various fruits and vegetables, among other things.

If your child suffers from IBS or IBD and you would like more guidance on diet therapies, schedule an appointment with a registered dietitian at NSPT. 877-486-4140.