Differences between Crohn’s Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Crohn’s Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Both Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome are ailments of the gastrointestinal tract. Many times, since the two share many of the same symptoms, they are confused as the same disease. However, there are some very important differences between the two.


Crohn’s disease is a condition that is progressive and incurable. IBS is not really a disease in and of itself, but a combination of symptoms involving the intestinal tract and can be treated.

Important Differences

You should know that Crohn’s disease is an autoimmune disease that actually attacks your gastrointestinal tract from your mouth to your anus.

It is characterized by very painful intestinal ulcers and inflammation. On the other hand, IBS is not characterized by ulcers and typically only affects the small intestine and stomach.

Crohn’s disease causes blood loss and fever, while IBS does not. Those suffering from IBS do pass large amounts of mucus, which helps with the elimination of waste- while those with Crohn’s have very small amounts of mucus.

X-rays can reveal the ulcers of Crohn’s, while they do nothing to show the effects of IBS. Another interesting difference between the two is that individuals with Crohn’s tend to also suffer from psoriasis- individuals with IBS do not.

Important Similarities

The major similarity between the two is that they both involve the gastrointestinal tract. Other symptoms that they share include diarrhea, listlessness, and abdominal cramping.

Since the symptoms of both can be inconvenient and painful, they can result in depression. In both disorders, the sufferer feels like his or her bowels have not been completely emptied- even if they have.

What Causes Crohn’s Disease?

Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory disease of the bowel. The exact cause has not yet been pinpointed, but it does predominantly affect those in the western, industrialized nations.

However, diet or environment have not been considered to be the cause. Many believe that Crohn’s is caused by the immune system attacking the body instead of defending it, like it was made to.

Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease


Before they receive their diagnosis, individuals suffering from Crohn’s will usually experience chronic fatigue. Often, this fatigue is blamed on lack of rest or busy schedules.

After they receive the diagnosis, they often realize that the fatigue was actually their body trying to let them know something was wrong.

The fatigue will very often increase with the duration of flare-ups and active Crohn’s and is very often accompanied by headaches and difficulty concentrating.

Nausea/Abdominal Pain

Nausea and abdominal pain are very often symptoms of other illnesses, so it makes it difficult to diagnose Crohn’s, unless there are other symptoms present as well.

Additionally, stomach cramping and abdominal pain occur frequently, and can vary in intensity and also be accompanied by colon spasms.

Diarrhea/Frequent Bowel Movements

The symptoms of Crohn’s will vary from person to person, but one of the symptoms that nearly all of them share is diarrhea.

In a healthy digestive system, you will have about 12 to 24 hours between consuming food and having a bowel movement.

Your body can’t properly use the nutrients if it leaves your digestive tract earlier than that. Chronic diarrhea can lead to weight loss, dehydration, nutritional deficiencies, and anemia.

Joint Pain/Inflammation

The inflammation with Crohn’s disease isn’t limited to just the colon. Inflammation causes a variety of other symptoms such as joint pain, arthritis, fever, sleep disturbances, flu-like symptoms, and headache. While you can treat the inflammation with medications, the best thing to do is to eliminate refined carbohydrates from your diet.

Oral Symptoms

Though Crohn’s is a digestive condition, it does affect all areas of the body. Your mouth is the front door to the digestive system and individuals with Crohn’s typically have ulcers, candidiasis, and canker sores when their Crohn’s is active.

Bloody Stools

One of the major symptoms of Crohn’s disease is bloody stools. Depending on the area of the colon that is bleeding, and if the bleeding is mild, individuals may not realize they have bloody stools.

However, when other symptoms are present, a physician will typically request a stool sample to find out whether or not it contains any blood. Bloody stools indicate that something is wrong and should never be ignored or left untreated.

What Causes IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is not really a disease by itself, but a collection of symptoms involving the intestinal tract.

Factors that can contribute to IBS include intolerance to gluten, lactose, or dietary fat, problems with digestion, anxiety, and a sensitive nervous system that causes upset to the normal balance.

Symptoms of IBS

IBS is a functional medical problem that has no known cure and there are really no tests available that can diagnose it. IBS is a combination of physical symptoms.

Abdominal Pain

Cramping, gas, and bloating are common symptoms of IBS that can cause abdominal pain. Other related pains include a pain running down the left side of the large intestine.

Abnormal Bowel Movements

Another common complaint of individuals suffering from IBS includes diarrhea, constipation, or both. Additionally, they may strain and may feel like they haven’t completely emptied their bowels.

The frequency in which individuals have bowel movements can also indicate a problem with IBS. It is considered normal to have three bowel movements per day. If you have a lot more than that or a lot less, you could be suffering from IBS.

Mucus in Stools

Individuals suffering from IBS may notice that they have excessive mucus in their stool. This is due to an irritation of the intestinal lining due to excessive bloating, cramping, and gas.

Other Symptoms

Some other symptoms that are related to IBS include nausea, fatigue/tiredness, and headaches. Women have also reported feeling pain in the left side of their abdomen during intercourse.


In most cases, Crohn’s disease is treated with medications such as prednisone, which is an anti-inflammatory that will suppress the immune system.

Another way to treat Crohn’s is with a low-residue diet with easily digestible elements. You can treat IBS with a diet high in fiber that helps to encourage stool to move along the digestive tract.

Items high in fiber include seeds, pasta, nuts, whole wheat, veggies, and fruits. The exception with veggies is those that cause gas such as beans, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower.

IBS is typically treated by doing things to reduce stress and avoiding laxatives. If you are lactose intolerant, it can help to eliminate dairy products from your diet.

Both Crohn’s disease and IBS can cause pain and disrupt your life. Though they do share very similar symptoms, they are totally different conditions. If you are suffering from painful gastrointestinal symptoms, see your physician for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Leave a Comment