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IBS And IBD: More Than Just Tummy Trouble


They're two problems that go well beyond mere “tummy trouble.” Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Inflammatory Bowel Disease sound similar – and share some similar symptoms – but one can have far greater consequences. Here's the difference between the two.

Interview highlights:

Dr. Themos Dassopoulos is Medical Director of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) Center at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome: "We estimate 15 percent of Americans, or even 20 percent, suffer from irritable bowel syndrome or IBS. It’s a chronic condition that affects people for almost their entire life span."

How serious is it? "If you find that you are in a situation that is stressful, and you get abdominal pain or a sudden urge to go to the bathroom; if you go to restaurants and you have to check out the location of the restroom; If you’re driving and you have a sudden attack of abdominal pain or urge to go to the bathroom again, that will affect your quality of life.  But it’s not serious in the sense that it will cause complications such as colon cancer or anemia or it will decrease your life span for any reason.”

Why it affects women more than men:  "Female hormones do affect gastrointestinal functions. They affect the way the gastrointestinal tract  works. They affect also the way the nerves of the gastrointestinal tract sense what is going on."

It also affects more people 45 and younger: "It’s usually diagnosed in your teens, 20s or 30s. A typical history in a 20-year-old man or woman is they’ve had some tummy aches in their high school years, and then they go off to college and leave home, they’re under stress, they change their diet, and they’ll experience more abdominal pain or diarrhea or constipation or any combination thereof. However, these conditions can be diagnosed from your childhood and teens to your 80s."

Why Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is far more serious: "What you have is actual inflammation. Ulcers, swelling, blood loss from the G-I tract from the small intestine and large intestine."

Two types of IBD: "Ulcerative colitis, as the name implies, affects only the colon. Crohn’s Disease can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract from the mouth to the anus. Whenever you have colitis, which means chronic inflammation of the colon, that increases the risk of colon cancer."

The good news is: "We have made tremendous progress over the last 20 years in treating the inflammation on the colon. We not only improve the quality of life of the patient and prevent complications like anemia, diarrhea and malnutrition, we also reduce the risk of colon cancer because when you treat the underlying cause of the colon cancer – the chronic inflammation – you reduce the risk of colon cancer."

How to avoid either condition: "IBD: Live a healthy lifestyle. Follow a healthy, varied diet. Avoid unnecessary antibiotics, which can change the bacteria in out intestines. And avoiding smoking are the three main things we can do. IBS: Managing our stress and exercising."

Also: "A tummy ache here and there is no big deal. But if you develop rectal bleeding, weight loss, nausea and vomiting, fevers, night sweats and joint pain, mouth sores – this is a chronic illness you have to address."  

For more information:

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.