IBS vs. IBD – what’s the difference?

by | Oct 26, 2021 | Digestive Health, Naturopathy, Nutrition

Digestive disorders and diseases can occur in both children and adults, and they may significantly impact quality of life, lead to hospitalizations or doctor’s visits, and are increasingly more common in North Americans. 

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) often have overlapping symptoms including changes in bowel habit and stool consistency (constipation and diarrhea), gas, bloating, fatigue, abdominal pain and food intolerances, however, the root causes are quite different.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

In IBS, which is a functional disorder, there is no physical damage to gastrointestinal tissues, but instead there are changes in pain & nerve perception, intestine motility and gas production.

The symptoms need to be present more days than not over a two week period, and there needs to be pain relief with a bowel movement – in order to fit the IBS diagnostic criteria. 

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

IBD, inflammatory bowel disease, is a category chronic autoimmune diseases which have periods of “flare ups” triggered by dietary changes, stress or bacteria.  IBD can be genetic, but it can also occur in those without any family history of the diseases. 

There is enough inflammation to damage the gut cell lining which can lead to ulcers and tissue death (necrosis).

This inflammation is triggered by the body’s immune response – an overactive immune response and attack on it’s own tissues.

The two main IBD diseases are Crohns’ Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. 

Crohns’ Disease

– Impacts the small intestine, but can impact any part of the digestive tract. The ulcer-type lesion destroy the intestine tissue and possibly the underlying muscle tissue in severe cases.

– Often it results in significant malabsorption, nutrient deficiencies and fatigue

– Patients may only be able to tolerate small amounts of food at at time


– typically impacts the large intestine and rectum, not the small intestine

– the tissue destruction is limited to just the mucosal lining of the intestines

– it may also result in nutrient deficiencies, malabsorption and fatigue


Conventional Medicine approach:

Diagnosis of IBD is often made with imaging such as endoscopy or colonoscopy with or without a tissue biopsy.

Those with IBS are diagnosed based off of ruling out all other diseases, as IBS is a diagnosis of exclusion.

Unfortunately there is little help available in the Western medical system for those with IBS. Patients are often told to avoid trigger foods, and reduce stress, or are sometimes offered gas medications, and antidepressant medications.

While conventional medicine treats IBD with steroids or biologic drugs that modulate the immune system to reduce inflammation, naturopathic medicine aims to determine and treat the root causes.  In severe cases intestine/bowel resection surgery may be necessary. 


Naturopathic approach:

A naturopathic approach that the Verdure team uses involves determining the root cause of the symptoms, then treating with evidence-based approaches including a combination of diet, supplements and lifestyle changes.


Besides colonoscopies, stool testing can provide insights about the health of the gut, as well as determining if there is colonic bleeding, or inflammation as we would see in IBD. 

One possible cause of IBD is gut microbiome imbalances – there is now evidence to show that specific strains of bacteria can trigger an autoimmune response.

These species include Citrobacter, Fusobacterium, Klebsiella, Prevotella and Proteus mirabilus.

When Dr. Kristin Spark, ND works with a patient with chronic digestive issues, she often will order comprehensive digestive health testing to determine the state of the patient’s microbiome including bacteria and yeasts and markers of inflammation and digestion.

 See an example of a microbiome test report HERE.

These tests help her determine whether the patient has IBS or IBD if a colonoscopy has not been done, which informs her treatment approach as treating IBS vs. IBD is very different. 



Dr. Spark ND uses a variety of methods to support patients with IBS and IBD including:

– testing, including stool, microbiome, and food sensitivity

– nutritional counselling guidance and prescribing therapeutic diets, such as low FODMAP and anti-inflammatory diet 

– removing any food sensitivities, trigger foods, and ensuring adequate nutrient intake is maintained through the elimination process

–  individualized supplement advice used to re-balance the micro-flora, support healing of tissues, modulate the immune system, replace and recovery digestive function, improve motility and so much more! 



Proper diagnosis, and effective treatment can help to manage symptoms, improve quality of life, reduce pain, and improve bowel function.  Dr. Spark ND has helped MANY patients improve their digestive disorders with her naturopathic approach. 

Digestive health issues are not a life sentence; you can heal with the right approach.

If you’re struggling with chronic digestive health issues, book an appointment with Dr. Kristin Spark, ND.


Verdure Wellness Clinic in Waterloo, ON offers naturopathic medicine, acupuncture, nutrition consulting, massage therapy and chiropractic care. Our team of health practitioners offer a variety of services with your best health and wellness in mind.

305-55 Erb Street E, Waterloo, Ontario   •    519.742.0691

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