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.


By Dr Lisa Das

Dr Lisa Das is a prestigious consultant gastroenterologist operating in London. After completing her undergraduate training at the reputable Guy's Hospital Medical School, she headed overseas to Boston, USA where she completed her medical residency before undertaking her subspecialty training in gastroenterology at Columbia University, New York. Her wealth of experience includes diagnostic and therapeutic endoscopy (gastroscopy and colonoscopy), capsule endoscopy and general gastroenterology.

Other specialties include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gastrointestinal cancer screening (Bowel Cancer Accredited), obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, gastro-oesophageal reflux, gastrointestinal bleeding, abdominal pain, dyspepsia, and abnormal liver functions. Dedicated to her field, her meticulous skill has earned her the honour of being the UK's first community gastroenterology consultant. She aims to deliver the highest quality care, putting her patients' minds at ease and offering a friendly approach every step of the way.  

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