Is IBS An Autoimmune Disease?

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Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can be highly complex and confusing. For anyone living with it, it can be quite distressing. People suffereing from IBS may wonder: Is IBS an autoimmune disease?

In short, IBS is not an autoimmune disease – but certain autoimmune diseases can mirror the symptoms of IBS. It is also entirely possible to have both an autoimmune disease and IBS. 

It’s best if we explore the relationship between irritable bowel syndrome and different autoimmune diseases. It can make all the difference when it comes to getting a diagnosis. 

What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?

IBS is a common condition that can affect your body’s digestive system which can lead to some common symptoms like bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation and feeling generally unwell.

Normally, these symptoms are more present after eating and often are soothed after a bowel movement (but not in every case). 

It is a condition that needs further research as specific causes and treatments are not entirely confirmed.

However, several different things may be involved: disordered interaction between the nerves linking the brain and the gut, development of IBS following a viral or bacterial gastroenteritis, microbial alterations within the normal gut flora and motility issues. 

It can often be triggered by certain foods or life events that are stressful and currently there is no cure for IBS.  Several management strategies are available to reduce and alleviate symptoms.

Medical journals noted other common potential causes like psychological factors (such as depression or anxiety), lactose or gluten intolerance, food allergies and inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract.

Learn more in the in-depth article: What is IBS Disease?

What Are Functional Bowel Disorders?

This is when the gastrointestinal tract isn’t functioning correctly. Irritable bowel syndrome is one such disorder, but it isn’t the only one. Others include functional: 

  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Bloating 
  • Dyspepsia

Poor diet and changes to normal behaviors such as long travel can affect the way in which the gastrointestinal tract works.

Along with these, pregnancy, strange withholding and infrequent or absent exercise routines all can contribute to a functional bowel disorder.

What Is An Autoimmune Disease?

Autoimmune conditions typically develop when your body “tricks” your immune system into attacking your own body, as if it is trying to fight off an illness.

The immune system is supposed to attack an unexpected and foreign bacteria, fungus, virus or toxin.

This is usually when antibodies kick in and attempt to reduce or destroy the pathogen. 

However, an autoimmune disease is making the immune system wrongly identify normal and healthy cells as enemies and damages those instead.

Are IBS And Autoimmune Diseases Linked?

Research has suggested that irritable bowel syndrome and a problem with the autoimmune system might be linked. It is theorized that having an autoimmune disease might further the chances of developing irritable bowel syndrome, but it isn’t conclusive. 

What Are The Autoimmune Diseases That Mimic IBS?

Although there isn’t any conclusive evidence as to why – there are some autoimmune disorders that mirror the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Check out some of these below.

SLE (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus)

It depends on where in your body your autoimmune system is attacking – but SLE can cause plenty of symptoms such as constipation, vomiting and pain in the abdomen.

These can also be accompanied with other symptoms like anorexia, rapid weight loss, fever or flu like symptoms and tiredness. 

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Commonly, this will cause pains within the joints or swelling around them. However, gut problems like IBS may highlight themselves such as flatulence, diarrhea and gastritis. 

Sjögren Syndrome

Although normally this condition would cause issues with the salivary glands, it can also cause problems such as indigestion and nausea, or difficulty swallowing. 


This is when your body is producing an abnormally high level of collagen and some symptoms can include bloating, diarrhea and constipation. It can also lead to trouble swallowing and reflux.

Behcet’s Disease 

This usually will affect the blood vessels and veins but people with this disease can also develop diarrhea and abdominal pain. 

Ankylosing Spondylitis

This is a form of spinal arthritis which can be associated with bowel inflammation, like Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis. 

Diagnosis Of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) 

Diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome isn’t easy. You will need to see your doctor to get expert advice and assessment.

For your doctor to be able to establish if you’re living with irritable bowel syndrome or an autoimmune disease (or even both), they will need to have a full medical history of you and your immediate family. 

Factors such as medication, alcohol and caffeine intake, drug use, diet and exercise regularities and any other health conditions will be taken into consideration for your doctor to make an informed judgement. 

If your doctor thinks it is necessary, you may need to provide a stool sample for analysis and possibly blood tests or a colonoscopy. 

It isn’t as simple as receiving an irritable bowel syndrome test, as one does not exist. Seeking out a diagnosis should be considered if you’ve been experiencing symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome for longer than 12 weeks.

Symptoms could include changes to bowel movements or abdominal discomfort. 

You may also want to get a diagnosis if you’re experiencing pains that are unbearable and your overall quality of life is affected. 

When To See A Doctor? 

You should always try and get professional medical advice when it comes to your health. However, for many of us – we are reluctant to seek out a doctor until certain signs appear. It is advisable to see a doctor if you are experiencing any of the following:

  • Excessive vomiting 
  • Persistent diarrhea 
  • Extreme and rapid weight loss 
  • Fever  
  • Blood in the stool (red, maroon or black) 
  • Severe pain
  • Blood in urine 

IBS and Autoimmune Disease Final Thoughts

Irritable bowel syndrome is not an autoimmune disease. Some autoimmune diseases can mimic the symptoms commonly present with IBS, and it is also possible to have both IBS and an autoimmune disease. 

If you think you have IBS, an autoimmune disease or even both – you should get in contact with your doctor as soon as possible for them to make an informed decision and advise you on the next steps. 

In the meantime, it is important to stay healthy and stick to a good diet and exercise routine.

A high fiber diet and plenty of water can help you have a healthy stool, and it might be beneficial to introduce probiotics into your diet which could help in balancing the gut’s microbes.

If you find it difficult to stick to diets or cannot create a balanced diet yourself, it is advisable to speak with a health professional. If you are a member of a gym, a nutrition expert is often at hand.

If you aren’t, you can either ask your doctor or you can visit a support group in person or via social media.

Above all, it is important that you stay healthy. Always consult a doctor before making dietary changes!

Learn more about IBS in these related articles:

Written and Medically Reviewed By

  • Kelly Chow

    Kelly first experienced IBS symptoms at the age of 24 with major-to-severe symptoms. She underwent all types of tests and experimented with many treatments before finally finding ways to manage her symptoms. Kelly has written and shared ebooks and Gluten-Free diet plans that she has used to live life like she did before IBS.

  • Julie Guider, M.D.

    Dr. Julie Guider earned her medical degree from Louisiana State University School of Medicine. She completed residency in internal medicine at the University of Virginia. She completed her general gastroenterology and advanced endoscopy fellowships at University of Texas-Houston. She is a member of several national GI societies including the AGA, ACG, and ASGE as well as state and local medical societies.

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