Conditions That Seem Like IBS But Aren't

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can sometimes be tricky to diagnose because it has a bunch of symptoms that are similar to other conditions. Your doctor will help you figure out what's really going on, but it helps to learn about the kinds of stomach trouble that can show up in IBS and other diseases, too.

IBS affects your large intestine, or what's called your colon. You can have bloating, diarrhea, constipation, cramping, and gas. You may have a sudden urge to have a bowel movement, even if you just had one.

Your doctor may talk to you about a number of conditions that have some of the same problems.

Ulcerative Colitis

It's a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes ulcers and inflammation inside your colon.

The exact cause isn't known. Some doctors believe it's linked to a problem with your immune system -- the body's defense against germs.

You may need to take medicine every day to treat it. Sometimes, doctors suggest surgery.

Microscopic Colitis

When you have this condition, your colon is inflamed. Your symptoms may include watery diarrhea and belly pain.

The condition may go away without any treatment, but if it doesn't, your doctor may tell you to tweak your diet or take medication. In rare cases, when the symptoms are severe, you may need surgery.

Crohn's Disease

Like ulcerative colitis, this type of IBD causes ulcers and inflammation. The difference is that Crohn's can affect different parts of your digestive tract.

Besides stomach symptoms, if you have Crohn's you may feel tired all the time and lose weight. If your child has the disease, it can affect her growth and development.

Crohn's tends to run in families. If someone you're related to has it, the odds go up that you'll have it, too.

Lactose Intolerance

If you have this condition, you can't fully digest the sugar (lactose) in dairy products. Although it's harmless, it can make you uncomfortable.

Most symptoms start within 30 minutes to 2 hours after you have milk or a food that contains it.

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Stress

Some of the effects of stress can seem a bit like IBS symptoms. When you're in a stressful situation, your body may slow down food as it moves through your digestive system, which leads to cramping, gas, or stomach problems. Those symptoms can make your stress worse and start a new round of symptoms.

Drug-free treatments like hypnosis and learning to relax can help manage this type of stomach pain.

Diverticulitis

Sometimes, weak parts of your colon start to sag. This causes tiny pouches to form, most often in the lower part of your colon. A tear in these "pockets" can lead to inflammation or infection, which is called diverticulitis.

If you have a mild case, you can treat it by making lifestyle changes, like getting more rest and watching what you eat.

Celiac Disease

If you have this condition, your immune system attacks your small intestine each time you eat gluten, a protein found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. You can get it at any age.

A blood test can show if you're more likely to get celiac disease. If so, your doctor may do a biopsy of your small intestine to confirm it.

The only sure treatment for celiac disease is a gluten-free diet. It's important to manage your condition to avoid severe damage.

Gallstones

Your gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ in your belly. It holds a fluid called bile that helps digest your food. Sometimes, leftover bile hardens to form little stones. These may not give you any symptoms unless they cause a blockage.

If you have a gallstone, you may get a sharp pain on the right side of your belly. You may not be able to sit comfortably. If you run a high fever with chills or notice that your skin or eyes start to yellow, call your doctor right away.

Pancreatitis

Your pancreas helps digest food before it's absorbed into your intestine. If it's not working the way it should, you can have IBS-like symptoms such as diarrhea, bloating, and belly pain.

Depending on the cause of your pancreatitis and how severe it is, treatment can include things like pain medication, changes to your diet, and surgery.

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Endometriosis

Sometimes, cells in the lining of a woman's uterus start growing in other places in the body. This includes your bowel. It can cause symptoms like IBS, but they may get worse before and during your period.

Another sign you could have endometriosis is pain when you start to have a bowel movement or during sex. Some women also have rectal bleeding.

Your doctor can diagnose endometriosis of the bowel with different imaging tests. Sometimes you can manage symptoms with medicine. Your doctor may also suggest surgery.

Stomach Cancer

This type of cancer may cause you to have symptoms similar to IBS, such as belly pain, bloating, and a feeling of fullness.

Other symptoms can be:

If your doctor thinks you have it, she may do a test called an upper endoscopy. She puts a small, lighted tube with a video camera into your throat to look at your stomach. Your doctor may take a sample of an area that doesn't look healthy and send it to a lab to be tested.

Parasites

Some types of parasites, like hookworms and tapeworms, can upset your gut. If so, you may also have weight loss or anemia (low iron in your blood), as well as diarrhea and belly pain.

Your doctor can test your stool to check for signs of worms or eggs. A medicine you take by mouth can get rid of these parasites.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on February 08, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

FamilyDoctor.org: "Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)."

United European Gastroenterology Journal: "Are IBD patients more likely to have a prior diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome? Report of a case-control study in the General Practice Research Database."

Crohn's & Colitis Foundation: "What are Crohn's & Colitis?"

Mayo Clinic: "Ulcerative Colitis," "Lactose Intolerance," "Diverticulitis," "Pancreatitis," "Microscopic colitis."

Clinical Endoscopy: "A Case of Parasite Invasion of the Intestinal Tract: A Missed Diagnosis in Irritable Bowel Syndrome."

Celiac Disease Foundation: "What is Celiac Disease?" "Celiac Disease Screening and Diagnosis."

Harvard Medical School: "Stress and the sensitive gut."

National Pancreas Foundation: "About the Pancreas," "Common Disorders of the Pancreas."

American Cancer Society: "Can Stomach Cancer Be Found Early?" "Signs and Symptoms of Stomach Cancer," "Tests for Stomach Cancer."

Endometriosis UK: "Understanding Endometriosis," "Endometriosis and the Bowel."

Merck Manual: "Hookworm Infection (Ancylostomiasis)."

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