IBS vs. Celiac

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) vs. Celiac Disease

Celiac is an autoimmune disease that causes a wide variety of symptoms, many of which are not gastro related. I will stick to digestive symptoms because I am doing a comparison to IBS. To learn more about other symptoms of celiac disease click here to read my recent blog post called What is Celiac Disease?

Both celiac disease and IBS can cause gas, bloating, cramps, diarrhea, constipation, and nausea. So how do you know the difference? You won’t be able to tell so go see your doctor! Your doctor should go over your symptoms with you and run some blood work to look for anemia or other vitamin deficiencies. Be sure to tell him if you are having any other symptoms such as blood in your stools or vomit, because IBS and celiac are not the only gastrointestinal diseases that cause these symptoms.

My Story

Growing up I had classic symptoms of IBS. My family doctor diagnosed me with IBS after doing no other tests! He made no effort to rule out any other causes. This is concerning because IBS is what you get diagnosed with once other possibilities are ruled out. When I was in my 20’s and feeling all adult-like, I had a “what is really going on with me” conversation with him. My symptoms were getting worse, I was underweight, exhausted, and not in the mood to hear the words IBS one more time. What did he do? He scared me back into thinking I had IBS. He knew the idea of medical procedures terrified me. He told me he would send me for tests to rule out other things but I would not like them. What the heck? I climbed back out of my adult shell and reverted into my kid shell and sheepishly agreed, it must be IBS.

In my mid 20’s, I was once again feeling confident enough to speak to my doctor about my symptoms. By this point, just about anything I ate was coming back out. He was still convinced I had IBS and was concerned that my diet may be worsening my symptoms. He wanted to put me on medication. I can’t recall what it was but it was supposed to help slow down the movement in my bowels that was causing the cramping and diarrhea. I told him if he was concerned about my diet, then he should send me to a dietician who understands IBS instead of putting me on medication. I think this is the first time he ever agreed with me on anything.

Off I went to the dietician who believed I needed more fiber in my diet. Whole grains! Whole grain bread, whole grain cereal, whole grain pasta, Blah Blah Blah! There was also a list of foods that irritate the bowels and a list of foods that are easier to digest. Had IBS been my only problem, she would have been helpful. Unfortunately, her diet didn’t work out so well for me. The more whole grains I ate, the more pain I experienced. So back to the doctor I went, to once again talk about my symptoms. To shorten the story we did this same song and dance until around 2007 when he finally decided I needed to go and see a specialist. The gastroenterologist ruled out a bunch of stuff, ran tests, procedures and biopsies, and finally, in 2009 I was diagnosed with celiac disease.

Then started the gluten free diet. I immediately noticed a huge difference in the amount of bloating and gas pain I was having. I was hoping that having a proper diagnosis would have alleviated all of my symptoms. For the most part, they got better, but I still had to watch what I ate. Why? Because I also had IBS.

According to WebMd

“About 20% of people with celiac disease who cut out gluten still have symptoms. Some of those people may also have IBS.” For more information click this link webmd

How unlucky could I be? At the time I had no idea about all the other ailments that were coming my way. That was just the beginning of a long list of illnesses I would be diagnosed with, but that is another story.

Is there a link between IBS and Celiac?

Because Celiac is autoimmune and IBS is not, there doesn’t seem to be any research supporting a link between the two. I think it is just dumb luck if you have both. IBS is a popular syndrome and celiac is a popular disease. By popular, I mean fairly common. This can make it difficult for people diagnosed with both to know if they ingested gluten or something they ate triggered the IBS. I find myself wondering all the time, what is causing my symptoms. If I have eaten the same thing twice and only reacted once, I assume it is the IBS.

What is IBS?

According to the CDHF (Canadian Digestive Health Foundation)

“Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder affecting the intestine. IBS involves problems with motility (movement of digested food through the intestines) and sensitivity (how the brain interprets signals from the intestinal nerves), leading to abdominal pain, changes in bowel patterns and other symptoms. Although often disruptive, debilitating and embarrassing, it may be some comfort to know that IBS is not life-threatening, nor does it lead to cancer or other more serious illnesses.”

“Canada has one of the highest rates of IBS in the world, estimated 18% vs 11% globally (Lovell et al. 2012). However, it is thought that IBS often remains under diagnosed. More than 70% indicate that their symptoms interfere with everyday life and 46% report missing work or school due to IBS. (Gastrointestinal Society 2016).

People with IBS frequently report feeling depressed, embarrassed and self-conscious. Their inability to predict symptoms places significant burden on daily living. IBS limits productivity and performance at work, has a negative effect on the quality of relationships, and limits participation in routine social activity (Gastrointestinal Society 2018).

To learn more about IBS, continue reading this article by clicking here.

So there you have it, my take on Celiac vs. IBS. Although my celiac is under control thanks to a gluten free diet, my struggle continues, even today with my symptoms of IBS. It seems I have many triggers. Ones I know about and ones I am still trying to figure out. It is a daily battle. If you have Celiac and IBS please comment. I would love to know what your thoughts are.

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