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Similar symptoms - but different conditions - the difference between irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and diverticular disease

Posted by Eamonn Brady on

Difference between irritable bowel disease (IBS) and diverticular disease


As a lot of the symptoms of both conditions are similar, they can be difficult to distinguish. One distinguishing factor is that the pain associated with IBS tends to be a cramping type pain and tends to be relieved by eliminating foods that contribute to it, whereas the pain from diverticular disease is more constant, not associated to meals/foods and is more associated with the lower left side of the abdomen. Diverticular disease is more common in older people and gets worse with age while IBS is more common in younger people, especially younger women. Diverticular disease tends to affect both sexes equally while IBS is more common in women.


Diverticular disease is due to increased pressure on the intestinal wall from inside the intestine and is attributed to a low fibre diet. The exact cause of IBS is not known and has exacerbating factors such as stress, hormone changes (especially in women) and intolerance to some foods. A high-fibre diet is the mainstay preventing of diverticulosis and diverticulitis. Diverticulitis is considered a more serious condition than IBS and in more severe cases require anti-biotics and even surgery in very severe cases.

Symptoms of IBS

IBS symptoms includes repeated abdominal pain with occasional diarrhoea alternating with constipation, abdominal bloating, tenderness and swelling and sometimes headache and anxiety. In irritable bowel syndrome, peristalsis is stronger and more frequent than normal. Peristalsis is when the bowel contents are moved along by a succession of rhythmical tightening and relaxation of segments of the intestine.


IBS can be exacerbated by eating and relieved by going to the toilet. There can be an urgency to empty the bowels soon after meals.


IBS symptoms include:

  • Pain in the GI tract,
  • burping,
  • bad breath,
  • excessive gas production,
  • headache,
  • tiredness,
  • nausea, and
  • a sense of incomplete emptying after going to the toilet.


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