Do you often wonder about the difference between IBS and IBD during symptom flares? Read on to figure things out if you’ve been diagnosed with both IBD and IBS!

The Major Differences


To understand the differences, we need to establish how each disease works.

How IBD Works


There are two main conditions that come under the IBD umbrella: Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis.

Crohn’s Disease


Crohn’s is an inflammatory condition that can occur anywhere in your digestive tract. Most commonly, it will happen in the small intestine and/or the colon.

If you have Crohn’s, you will have various abnormalities in your digestive tract. You might have a fistula (abnormal connections of the digestive tract), tears or cracks in your colon, boils and skin tags outside your anus or blockages in your intestine.

Symptom flares can be extremely painful and can sometimes involve the passing of black or red stools if you have a tear in your colon. These changes in colour mean that you are bleeding in your digestive system, so you should seek medical attention!


Ulcerative Colitis


Ulcerative Colitis is also an inflammatory condition, just like Crohn’s. This condition is characterised by ulceration that can occur in the intestinal tract.

Sometimes, during a symptom flare, these ulcers can bleed and cause you to pass black-coloured stools. Medical attention may be required in this case. You will also feel lots of digestive pain during a flare if you have Ulcerative Colitis.


How IBS Works


IBS has 4 different main subtypes which you can read more about HERE.

Just like IBD, there is an inflammatory process involved in the development of the condition, so there is a major connection between all of these.


The Major Difference


Generally, with IBS, there is a major thing that differentiates it from IBD: there is usually nothing structurally wrong with your digestive system. Or, at least, none that can be found by the testing your doctor will have conducted.

This means that when you have a symptom flare, there will never be bleeding. There will still be an inflammatory response with lots of pain, bloating and erratic bowel movements. Even so, there will be no ulceration in your digestive system or major obstructions in your bowel.


Why You’ve Been Diagnosed With Both At Once


So why would your doctor say you have IBS and IBD together when they work differently? 

Because sometimes the symptom flare picture for IBD can be very similar to IBS. You deal with pain, erratic bowel movements and major disruption to your life!

Not all flares that you have with IBD will involve bleeding or a need for urgent medical attention. These more “minor” flares are the ones your doctor might be categorising as IBS, rather than IBD.


The Naturopathic Approach


The important thing to understand is that really everything comes back to the inflammation related to your IBD.

If you’re having a symptom flare that is not presenting with bleeding, it’s still an IBD flare. This IBD flare is not a medical emergency and there’s no bleeding, but it’s not IBS, in my opinion.

Categorising the two conditions to one person completely ignores the basic tenet of IBS diagnosis: you can’t be diagnosed with IBS until all other diseases are ruled out.

If you have IBD, that’s it! That’s the driver for you! Treatment will centre around management of your inflammation to reduce the occurrence of both major and “minor” flares.


What You Can Do Now


Want to get your IBD under control? Book your FREE 15-Minute Gut Health Assessment with me right now! I’ll get to know you and where you’re at with your gut health, and we can set some goals for where you want to be.

I love getting guts healthy – let me help you support your own healing journey with functional testing, diet changes, herbs and lifestyle upgrades.



Lauren Booth

BHSc (Nat)

Nutritionist & Naturopath








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