Overlapping irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease: Less to this than meets the eye?
Though distinct in terms of pathology, natural history and therapeutic approach, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) have some features in common. These include shared symptomatology and largely similar demographics. However, in most instances, clinical presentation, together with laboratory, imaging and endoscopic findings will readily permit the differentiation of active IBD from IBS. More problematic is the situation where a subject with IBD, in apparent remission, continues to complain of symptoms which, in aggregate, satisfy commonly employed criteria for the diagnosis of IBS. Access to methodologies, such the assay for levels of calprotectin in feces, now allows identification of ongoing inflammation in some such individuals and prompts appropriate therapy. More challenging is the IBD patient with persisting symptoms and no detectable evidence of inflammation; is this coincident IBS, IBS triggered by IBD or an even more subtle level of IBD activity unrecognized by available laboratory or imaging methods? Arguments can be advanced for each of these proposals; lacking definitive data, this issue remains unresolved. The occurrence of IBS-type symptoms in the IBD patient, together with some data suggesting a very subtle level of 'inflammation' or 'immune activation' in IBS, raises other questions: is IBS a prodromal form of IBD; and are IBS and IBD part of the spectrum of the same disease? All of the available evidence indicates that the answer to both these questions should be a resounding 'no'. Indeed, the whole issue of overlap between IBS and IBD should be declared moot given their differing pathophysiologies, contrasting natural histories and divergent treatment paths. The limited symptom repertoire of the gastrointestinal tract may well be fundamental to the apparent confusion that has, of late, bedeviled this area.