Conditions That Seem Like IBS But Aren't

Medically Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on March 17, 2024
5 min read

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 small as well as 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.

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.

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.

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 their 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Bacteria do important jobs in our intestines, like helping to digest our food and keeping us healthy. But people with IBS are more likely to have too many of these germs, a condition called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). It can cause diarrhea that doesn’t get better, weight loss, and a lack of vitamins in the body. Your doctor can do some tests to see if SIBO is the cause of your symptoms. If it is, antibiotics can kill the extra bacteria in your gut.

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, they may do a test called an upper endoscopy. They put 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.

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.