Feeling pain or discomfort in your gut area is never a pleasant experience. And when it’s accompanied by other symptoms, you may start to worry that something serious is happening.
Two potential causes of these symptoms are irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and colon cancer. IBS is fairly common and relatively benign, while colon cancer is much less common but much more serious.
Unfortunately, they share many of the same symptoms, which can cause a lot of anxiety if you’re not sure which one you’re dealing with.
Symptoms in Common With IBS and Colon Cancer
The symptoms of both IBS and colon cancer can include:
● Abdominal pain or discomfort related to bowel movements
● Changes in bowel habits
● Bloating or gassiness
These symptoms can also be shared with several other conditions, so it’s important not to self-diagnose. If you’re experiencing any worrying symptoms, the best thing to do is to see a doctor for an evaluation.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
IBS is a chronic condition characterized by recurrent abdominal pain and digestive difficulties. It’s estimated to affect about 10-15% of adults in the United States.
The exact cause of IBS is unknown, but it’s believed to be related to the gut-brain axis. This means that there is a complex interaction between the nervous system and the digestive system that can lead to symptoms. In simpler terms, IBS symptoms tend to worsen when stressed.
Your doctor can diagnose IBS with a physical examination and lab tests to rule out other potential causes of your symptoms. There is no single test for IBS, so the diagnosis is usually made based on your doctor’s interpretation of your symptoms and medical history.
Colon cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed type of cancer in the United States and the second leading cause of cancer death. It typically affects adults over the age of 50.
In addition to the symptoms shared with IBS, colon cancer can also cause:
● Unexplained weight loss
● Rectal bleeding
● Dark or bloody stools
IBS will generally not present with these symptoms. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, alert your doctor immediately, as they could indicate that colon cancer has already progressed to a more advanced stage.
The best way to reduce the risks associated with colon cancer is to get screened for it starting at age 45. This is typically done with a colonoscopy, a procedure where a doctor inserts a camera into the rectum to examine the colon for abnormal growths.
If any polyps (abnormal tissue growths) are found, they can be removed during the procedure. Polyps are not always cancerous, but removing them can help to prevent colon cancer from developing.
If you’re experiencing any worrying digestive symptoms, the best thing to do is to see a doctor for a clinical diagnosis. Then you can work together to determine the best treatment for your case.