IBS symptoms: could they mean something else?

Written by: Dr Lisa Das
Edited by: Alex Rolandi

IBS symptoms may not always be what they seem. If you’re feeling bloated, got stomach cramps, or your toilet habits are irregular, sometimes it might be your body trying to say something more. Here are 4 conditions that exhibit IBS symptoms but could require further medical help.

1. Coeliac disease

This digestive condition causes sufferers to have an adverse reaction to gluten, making them completely intolerant of any food containing it. It also has exactly the same symptoms as irritable bowel syndrome.

Coeliac disease is a fairly uncommon condition, but those with a family history of it are more likely to be sufferers themselves, as are those who have other auto-immune conditions like an underactive thyroid. Coeliac disease is four times more common in people with irritable bowel syndrome, so if you're concerned you might be allergic to gluten you can ask your doctor to check with a blood test, which may or may not be followed up by an endoscopy with a biopsy.


2. Bile acid malabsorption

We all make bile acid which, funnily enough, can be found in our bile. But it can turn into an issue when too much of it gets into the colon. It's almost like when you get soap in your  eyes; they water. Bile acid to the colon tissue is an irritant causing watery mixed stool. Bile acid malabsorption is found in 30% of IBS patients who experience diarrhoea – but the good news is it's very treatable.


3. Ovarian cancer

All GPs know that if you've got a young lady with persistent bloating, it's worth doing an ultrasound to exclude an ovarian issue. That doesn't mean to say all young women who bloat should be concerned, though, because the chances of developing ovarian cancer are relatively low, but it's always better to be safe than sorry, and always wise to get checked out as ovarian cancer often exhibits similar symptoms to IBS.


4. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

IBS is often mistaken for IBD, but there's a big difference. IBS is a syndrome, meaning it's a collection of symptoms. It is not a disorder or a disease. IBD, on the other hand, is a disease that has long term risks (like developing cancer) and therefore needs treatment. IBS, while it can be difficult to manage, doesn't have long term risks. IBD consists of chronic conditions like ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease, which both involve inflammation of the gut.


Dr Lisa Das

By Dr Lisa Das

Dr Lisa Das is a prestigious consultant gastroenterologist based in London. Her areas of expertise include gastroscopy, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), abdominal pain, indigestion, constipation and chronic diarrhoea, with an emphasis on women's gastroenterology.

Dr Das became the UK's first-ever community gastroenterology consultant at the Royal London Hospital Barts Health NHS Trust with an interest in improving service delivery. She carried out her training at Guy’s Hospital Medical School in London and then headed overseas to complete her medical residency in Boston, USA. Following this, Dr Das received subspecialist training in gastroenterology from Columbia University and now holds both a Board Certification in Gastroenterology from the USA and full accreditation in the UK General Medical Council's Specialist Register in Gastroenterology.

Aside from her areas of expertise, she also has a special interest in treating patients with inflammatory bowel disease, gastro-oesophageal reflux, gastrointestinal bleeding and abnormal liver function. In addition, she provides gastrointestinal cancer screening and helps many patients with obesity.

Dr Das provides exceptional clinical care, offering a warm, kind and friendly approach to all her patients.

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