In the realm of gastronomic delights and occasional culinary gambles, encountering a tummy upset or gastrointestinal discomfort isn’t uncommon. Whether it’s from indulging in exotic foods or less-than-ideal sanitary conditions, the aftermath often involves symptoms like abdominal pain, diarrhea, or irregular bowel movements.

However, not all stomach pains are mere consequences of food poisoning. There exist several other bowel conditions that can present with similar symptoms, adding a layer of complexity to diagnosis and treatment.

For instance, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) manifests with abdominal pain post-meal, often accompanied by diarrhea, constipation, or changes in stool consistency, according to Dr. Eric Wee, a senior consultant gastroenterologist at Nobel Gastroenterology Centre, Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital. On the other hand, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) may also share overlapping symptoms.

Dr. Wee highlights the diagnostic challenge: many patients initially suspect IBS or IBD, only to be diagnosed with alternative conditions such as gastroenteritis (infection) upon consultation. The confusion stems from shared symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, or altered bowel habits. Notably, IBD, comprising Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, is more severe and infrequent compared to IBS.

Distinguishing between food poisoning and other conditions can be daunting, as symptoms like diarrhea, stomach pain, and bloating can signal various digestive disorders including celiac disease, gluten intolerance, or lactose intolerance. Dr. Wee suggests that food poisoning or gastroenteritis typically accounts for the majority of cases.

IBS, characterized by hypersensitive bowel nerves triggering excessive muscle contractions post-meal, can be suspected if abdominal discomfort persists for at least three days monthly over three months, coupled with changes in stool frequency or form. In contrast, IBD, an autoimmune disorder causing inflammation in the digestive tract, may present with persistent symptoms, mucous, and blood in stools, along with systemic signs like fatigue, anemia, or weight loss.

Diagnostic tools like scans, stool tests, colonoscopies, and biopsies are essential for accurate diagnosis. While IBS biopsies generally reveal no abnormalities, those for IBD may show distinct tissue changes indicative of inflammation.

Managing IBD typically involves immunosuppressive medications tailored to modulate immune responses and reduce inflammation, whereas IBS treatments often focus on symptom alleviation through dietary modifications, stress management, or medications targeting intestinal muscle relaxation.

In Singapore, IBS affects nearly one in ten individuals, while IBD cases, primarily ulcerative colitis, are estimated lower but rising due to heightened awareness and diagnostic advancements.

Ultimately, distinguishing between these conditions requires a nuanced approach involving clinical evaluation and diagnostic tests, ensuring appropriate management and better outcomes for patients grappling with gastrointestinal challenges.