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Differentiating IBS Symptoms from Other GI Conditions

Have you ever been frustrated by experiencing symptoms that seemed to be

attributed to many different conditions? Or been frustrated searching for the answers

online only to feel even more confused and defeated?

It can be frustrating navigating through all the information online.

There are so many conditions that seem to have overlapping symptoms and even have similar names. However, there are some key differences in symptoms that can help differentiate IBS from other GI disorders:

Presence of inflammation

IBS does not involve inflammation and typically does not cause bleeding. In

comparison, as the name suggests, Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), such as

Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, does involve inflammation of the digestive

tract. Celiac Disease also involves inflammation of the small intestine caused by a

protein called gluten found in various grains.

Severity of symptoms:

Like other GI conditions IBS can cause discomfort and disrupt daily activities.

However, unlike IBD, IBS does not entail rectal bleeding and generally does not

lead to complications such as bowel obstruction or fistulas, which can occur in IBD.

Consistency of symptoms:

IBS symptoms may fluctuate over time, with periods of flare ups.

The most common symptoms can be remembered using the ABCD acronym:

· Abdominal pain

· Bloating

· Constipation

· Diarrhea

Symptoms may be triggered by certain foods, chronic alcohol use, stress,

depression, anxiety, drugs such as laxatives and antibiotics, lack of physical activity

along with other possible factors.

In contrast, conditions like celiac disease typically result in consistent symptoms such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, and bloating, because of the ingestion of gluten.

Diagnostic markers:

Compared to many other GI conditions, IBS is a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning

that it is typically diagnosed after ruling out other potential causes of symptoms

through various tests and evaluations.

This is mostly because IBS is not a structural bowel disorder like IBD, meaning that if you did a colonoscopy, you may not necessarily “see” anything unusual in the GI tract. In contrast, other GI conditions such as Celiac Disease and IBD have specific diagnostic markers.

For example, diagnosis of Celiac Disease diagnostic markers can be identified through blood tests (e.g., anti-tissue transglutaminase antibodies).

Another example is the diagnosis of IBD which involves a series of tests (colonoscopy, biopsies, blood tests, etc).

Duration of symptoms:

While both IBS and other GI conditions can cause chronic symptoms, the duration

and progression of symptoms may differ. For example, IBS symptoms may persist

for many years but tend to fluctuate with periods of flare-ups.

If you are experiencing persistent GI symptoms, it's important to consult a healthcare

professional for an accurate diagnosis.

Since IBS can sometimes take up to 7 years to diagnose, I recommend people who experience persistent GI symptoms to reach out as soon as possible.

Managing IBS symptoms can feel overwhelming and discouraging. It can be hard to know what can be done to manage the symptoms you experience or if you will ever find relief.

The Gut Loving Dietitian is here to support you! Find lasting relief when you connect for a tailored plan to help you manage the symptoms you experience.

Written by: Clare Douglas, 4th Year UBC Dietetic Student


Enck, P., Aziz, Q., Barbara, G., et al. (2016). Irritable bowel syndrome. Nature

Reviews Disease Primers, 2, 16014.

Gut Loving Dietitian. (n.d.). Understanding IBS. Retrieved from

IBD Centre BC. (n.d.). IBD facts. Retrieved from


Poon, D., Law, G.R., Major, G., et al. (2022). A systematic review and meta-

analysis on the prevalence of non-malignant, organic gastrointestinal disorders

misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome. Scientific Reports, 12(1), 1949.

Nelms, M. N., & Sucher, K. P. (2019). Nutrition Therapy and Pathophysiology (4th

ed.). Cengage Leanring.

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