6 Conditions With Symptoms Similar to IBS

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Chris Illiades, MD on September 4, 2020
  • closeup of woman holding stomach
    Ruling Out Other Illnesses
    One of the things that your doctor will do before diagnosing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is make sure you don't have another disease or illness that has similar symptoms. Symptoms of IBS include at least six months of abdominal discomfort along with changes in your bowel movements. You do not usually need tests to get an IBS diagnosis. Doctors can diagnose IBS from your signs and symptoms. However, your doctor may do tests to rule out six similar conditions.
  • inflammatory-bowel-disease-on-page
    1. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
    IBS and IBD are sometimes confused. They even sound the same. They're not. IBD includes two serious diseases: ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. IBS and IBD can both cause diarrhea, constipation and abdominal pain. IBD is different because it causes major inflammation and damage. IBD increases the risk of colon cancer. If you have symptoms like blood in your stool, fever or weight loss, you may have IBD and not IBS.
  • micrograph-of-colon-cancer
    2. Colon Cancer
    Colon cancer is another serious disease that can act like IBS. It causes a change in bowel habits. It may also cause diarrhea or constipation. Colon cancer symptoms tend to get worse. Colon cancer may cause rectal bleeding, dark or bloody stools, weakness, and weight loss. IBS does not cause bleeding. If you have these symptoms, let your doctor know. These symptoms are a warning not to ignore.
  • wheat intolerance
    3. Celiac Disease
    Sometimes people with celiac disease have no symptoms. In others, celiac disease may cause constipation, diarrhea, pain and bloating — like IBS, celiac disease also causes many other symptoms. These include foul-smelling stools, nausea, vomiting and weight loss. Adults with celiac disease may have symptoms that do not involve digestion. These can include rashes, joint pain, canker sores, depression, tingling and numbness, brittle bones, and headaches.
  • Glass of spilt milk on table
    4. Lactose Intolerance
    Lactose intolerance can act a lot like IBS. Its symptoms include bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, gas and nausea. Like IBS, lactose intolerance does not cause rectal bleeding or weight loss and fatigue. The big difference is that lactose intolerance symptoms only occur within two hours of drinking milk or milk products. Lactose intolerance is more common in people who are African American, Asian, or Hispanic.
  • diverticulitis-illustration
    5. Diverticulitis
    When small pouches form inside the digestive tract, this is diverticulosis. They usually form toward the end of the colon. Diverticulosis does not get confused with IBS. It does not cause symptoms. However, if these pouches get infected, it causes diverticulitis, and that condition can act like IBS. Diverticulitis causes pain and constipation or diarrhea. The difference is that diverticulitis also causes fever and bleeding. In some cases, the bleeding can be severe, resulting in bright red rectal bleeding.
  • microscopic-view-of-giardiasis
    6. Giardiasis
    Many intestinal infections can act like IBS. Infection with the intestinal parasite giardia can be mistaken for IBS. That's because this infection also causes diarrhea, gas, and abdominal pain. The symptoms can last for a long time and they can come and go — just like IBS. Over time, giardiasis may cause weight loss and vitamin deficiencies because it keeps your digestive system from absorbing fat. Your doctor may use a stool sample to test for giardiasis.
6 Conditions With Symptoms Similar to IBS

About The Author

  1. Diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Disease. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/digestive-diseases/irritable-bowel-syndrom...
  2. IBS and IBD: Two Very Different Disorders. http://www.ccfa.org/resources/ibs-and-ibd-two-very.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/
  3. Signs and Symptoms of Colon Cancer. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/news/features/signs-and-symptoms-of-colon-cancer
  4. Celiac Disease. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/digestive-diseases/celiac-disease/Pages/fa...
  5. Lactose Intolerance. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/digestive-diseases/lactose-intolerance/Pag...
  6. Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis American College of Gastroenterology. http://patients.gi.org/topics/diverticulosis-and-diverticulitis/
  7. Giardia. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/giardia/diagnosis.html
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 4
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.