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IBS vs. Crohn’s vs. Celiac Disease

IBS vs Crohn's vs Celiac

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, and celiac disease are three of the most common digestive disorders. Although they have similar symptoms, they are very different conditions and require different treatments.

All three conditions can be uncomfortable, interfere with your quality of life, and can even lead to dangerous complications. Read on to learn about the similarities and differences.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

IBS is a type of functional gastrointestinal disorder. This means that the brain and gut are not working together properly, leading to changes in how the muscles in your bowels contract.

There is no known cause, but stress is a common trigger. People with IBS frequently have irregular muscle movement in the digestive tract, which can affect bowel movements. It is possible that hormones play a role in IBS, as women are affected more often than men.

Certain foods and drinks can trigger IBS symptoms – carbonated drinks, dairy products, cabbage, beans, citrus fruits, and wheat are common culprits.


Symptoms are most often noticeable after large meals or in times of stress. They vary from person to person.

Symptoms can include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation and diarrhea
  • Mucus in the stool
  • Gas
  • Abdominal bloating, feeling full
  • An urge to have a bowel movement without being able to
  • Nausea
Diagnosing IBS

A diagnosis of IBS is made by ruling out other causes of the symptoms. You may need to have several different tests to make sure your symptoms aren’t caused by something else. Once no other disease has been identified, IBS can be diagnosed. The medical term for this is a “diagnosis of exclusion”.


Currently, there are no specific treatments for IBS. Reducing the symptoms of IBS is the usual treatment. Symptoms can often be relieved through diet changes and stress management. Medications may be able to stop muscle spasms.

Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that can spread deep into the layers of the bowel. Crohn’s can be painful, debilitating, and can result in life-threatening complications.

The exact cause of Crohn’s disease is unknown. It’s thought to be genetic, the result of a malfunctioning immune system, or a response triggered by a virus or bacteria.


Symptoms can range from mild to severe and vary from person to person. They can also disappear for periods of time, known as remission. Some common symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain, cramping
  • Diarrhea (severe)
  • Blood in the stool
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Sores in the mouth
  • Reduced appetite, weight loss, malnutrition
  • Inflammation in other areas: skin, eyes, joints, liver, bile ducts
  • Kidney stones
  • Anemia
  • In children, delayed growth or development
Diagnosing Crohn’s Disease

Like IBS, there is no single test to identify IBS. Diagnosis is made by ruling out other possible causes. Tests and procedures that can help narrow down the diagnosis include:

  • Blood tests – for anemia or infection
  • Stool studies – to check for traces of blood or organisms like parasites
  • Colonoscopy – to view the colon, take a tissue sample, and check for granulomas (clusters of inflammatory cells)
  • Computerized tomography (CT) – to view the bowel and surrounding tissues
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – a different way of viewing organs and tissues
  • Capsule endoscopy – a camera inside a pill capsule is swallowed and pictures are taken as it moves through the digestive tract

Currently, there is no cure for Crohn’s disease. The goal of treatment is to limit complications and reduce inflammation, therefore reducing symptoms. Common treatments include:

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Immune system suppressors
  • Biologics – a type of medication that targets proteins produced by the immune system
  • Antibiotics
  • Anti-diarrheal, pain relievers, vitamins, and supplements
  • Nutrition therapy to rest the bowel, improve nutrition, and reduce inflammation.
  • Surgery to remove damaged tissue

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that damages the small bowel. It is triggered by ingesting gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and farro.
Celiac disease is usually caused by genetics. It may also be triggered by stressful medical events or emotional trauma.


Celiac disease can cause over 200 symptoms, which vary from person to person. Some people with celiac disease have no symptoms (asymptomatic) but are still at risk for complications. Others may have anemia but no other signs or symptoms. Some people have a combination of symptoms when they eat gluten. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain, bloating, gas
  • Constipation, diarrhea, pale stools
  • Weight loss
  • Blistering skin rash and sores in the mouth
  • Anemia
  • Inflammation of the liver
  • Muscle cramps, joint pain, bone pain
  • Tingling nerves in legs, balance problems
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Malnutrition
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
Diagnosing Celiac Disease

The most accurate way to diagnose celiac disease is by endoscopy with biopsy. A blood test that looks for specific antibodies can be helpful in identifying celiac disease. Genetic testing to look for certain genes is another possible test.


Treatment involves permanently removing gluten from the diet. Vitamin and mineral supplements may be prescribed. If left untreated, celiac disease may cause dangerous complications like small bowel cancer, malnutrition, and seizures.


If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of IBS, Crohn’s disease, or celiac disease, it’s time to see a gastroenterologist. Getting a diagnosis is the first step in developing a treatment plan to relieve your symptoms and improve your quality of life.

Don’t suffer any longer – schedule an appointment now.

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