IBS vs. Celiac Disease: Symptom Comparison


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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source, diseases of the digestive system result in over 22 million doctor visits each year.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and celiac disease are digestive conditions that can cause a handful of similar symptoms, such as bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and more. Although these two conditions may appear similar at first, there are some defining features of both IBS and celiac disease that can help you and your doctor narrow down a diagnosis.

In this article, we’ll discuss the symptoms of IBS versus celiac disease, as well as the potential underlying causes and when it’s time to see a doctor.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a digestive condition that affects the lower portion of the gastrointestinal tract, which includes the small and large intestines.

Celiac disease is another digestive condition that affects only one portion of the gastrointestinal tract: the small intestine.

Although IBS and celiac disease both affect the digestive tract, they’re two completely different conditions with different causes, triggers, and treatments. However, given that both conditions primarily affect the intestines, they can have similar symptoms.

Here’s how the most common symptoms of IBS and celiac disease compare:

SymptomsIBSCeliac disease
abdominal painxx
bloatingxx
constipationxx
damage to digestive tractx
diarrheaxx
feeling of incomplete evacuationx
gasxx
lactose intolerancexx
loose, greasy, or foul-smelling stoolx
mucus in stoolx
nauseaxx
vomitingx

So, how can you distinguish between IBS and celiac disease when the symptoms are so similar?

One of the biggest differences between the two conditions is how they affect the body. These effects can lead to a difference in the severity of symptoms.

IBSTrusted Source is a condition that is limited primarily to the lower digestive tract, meaning that it’s unlikely to cause additional symptoms elsewhere in the body. In addition, IBS isn’t known to cause long-term damage to the digestive tract, so it rarely causes nutrient deficiencies.

Celiac diseaseTrusted Source is an autoimmune condition that, depending on the severity, can cause symptoms that extend beyond the digestive tract. Unlike IBS, the damage that celiac disease causes can prevent the body from absorbing important nutrients, which can cause more severe symptoms.

Since celiac disease can damage the digestive tract, people with this condition may also experience the following symptoms as a result of nutrient deficiencies:

In addition, children with celiac disease who have nutrient deficiencies may experience symptoms of delayed growth, such as:

IBS and celiac disease also share a handful of similar causes, although there are some definite differences between the underlying causes of these two conditions. Common causes for IBS and celiac disease include:

  • digestive tract infections
  • food intolerances
  • genetics
  • gut bacteria overgrowth
  • emotional stress

Just like there are differences between the symptoms of IBS and celiac disease, there are some notable differences in what can trigger each of these conditions, as well.

Celiac disease is solely triggered by an immune reactionTrusted Source to gluten. Gluten is a protein that is naturally found in wheat, barley, and rye. When someone with celiac disease eats gluten or encounters products that contain gluten, it causes an immediate immune system reaction (or “flare-up”).

IBS can be triggered by a wide variety of foods, not just gluten. Some research has suggested that specific carbohydrates called FODMAPs (fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols) contribute to IBS flare-ups, but there are other known triggers, such as psychological stress.

If you have IBS or celiac disease, it’s good to know what triggers a flare-up so that you can avoid chronic or debilitating symptoms.

We’ve all experienced the occasional upset stomach or episode of constipation or diarrhea. However, if you experience abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, or other digestive symptoms that don’t go away or become worse over time, you should visit a doctor.

Symptoms that require medical attention

The following symptoms could indicate a more serious underlying condition:

  • difficulty or pain when swallowing
  • severe abdominal pain
  • diarrhea or vomiting that doesn’t stop
  • blood in the stool or vomit

Ultimately, while some of the symptoms of IBS and celiac disease may seem minor, any new or worsening symptoms that don’t get better with over-the-counter medications should be checked out by your doctor.

Despite being two entirely separate conditions, IBS and celiac disease share a number of symptoms, causes, and even triggers.

However, while IBS symptoms are typically limited to the digestive tract, the symptoms of celiac disease can affect the entire body. In addition, while an IBS flare-up can be caused by a wide variety of triggers, celiac disease has a more defined trigger.

Without a proper diagnosis from a doctor or gastroenterologist, it can be difficult to determine exactly what’s causing new or developing gastrointestinal symptoms.

If you or a loved one are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, schedule a visit with a doctor for further testing and diagnosis.

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