Upset Tummy Or IBS? Telling Apart Their Differences!

September 6, 2023
Upset Tummy Or IBS? Telling Apart Their Differences!

Abdominal pain can affect you all of a sudden. Usually, it occurs when you least expect it and at the wrong time. Whether your abdominal pain is a result of a regular upset stomach (aka food poisoning) or IBS,, it can often lead to embarrassing and inconvenient results.


So how do you tell the difference between an upset stomach or IBS? An upset stomach, though it can be inconvenient, is not chronic. It is usually caused by an acute viral or bacterial infection of the gut, usually through contaminated food and usually resolves spontaneously or with some simple over the counter medications. On the other hand, IBS is a chronic condition that is multi-factorial but can include sugar malabsorption and SIBO. IBS requires further assessment by your gastroenterologist and may benefit from you seeing a dietician.


The thing about abdominal pain is that it is non-specific due to its many causes, from IBS to food poisoning and lactose intolerance. However, in this article, we will delve into the two common causes – upset tummy and IBS.


What is IBS?

IBS affects up to 18 per cent of the world’s population. Despite its inconveniences and discomfort, studies have proven that having IBS does not increase your risk of developing gastrointestinal cancer.


IBS is a common functional gastrointestinal condition or a disorder of the gut-brain interaction. This means that there is an issue with the connection between the brain and the gut, resulting in the gastrointestinal tract being more sensitive and affecting the contraction of the bowel muscles. This is the reason why IBS symptoms include diarrhoea, stomach pain, constipation, and bloating.


While the primary cause of IBS is still not known, studies have found that micro-inflammation, recent viral or bacterial infection, visceral hypersensitivity, altered intestinal muscle contractions, and stress many all contribute to IBS.


What are the signs of IBS?

The development of IBS can result in certain signs to surface. However, it varies between individuals. Nevertheless, some of the more common signs include:


  • Stomach discomfort or pain


  • Change in stools’ appearance


  • Bloating


  • Change in stools’ frequency (diarrhoea or constipation)


  • Heartburn or acid reflux


  • Headache


  • Muscle pains or aches


The above symptoms may appear and disappear for varying durations, especially after a bowel movement. Hence, IBS is often misdiagnosed as other causes of stomach pain, such as lactose intolerance or upset tummy.


Differences between upset stomach and IBS

While they may share similar symptoms, there are a couple of methods to help you confirm if you are experiencing an upset stomach or IBS.


  • Upset stomach (or food poisoning) symptoms are usually isolated occurrences while IBS symptoms tend to be chronic relapsing and occur frequently over months and years.


  • Upset stomach or food poisoning may also be associated with fever and vomiting.


  • Upset stomach or food poisoning can be contagious whereas IBS is not.


  • An upset stomach is usually associated with either a viral, bacterial or parasitic infection, while IBS does not.


How is IBS diagnosed?

Your gastroenterologist will conduct a couple of diagnostic tests to ascertain if you are suffering from IBS:


  • Gastroscopy: A procedure that involves inserting a flexible, thin tube attached with a light and camera at the end through your mouth and down your oesophagus to examine your stomach and small intestine.


  • CT-scan: A non-invasive diagnostic imaging tool that combines computer technology and X-ray to produce axial, horizontal, or cross-sectional images of our body.


  • Colonoscopy: A procedure that involves inserting a similar tool as gastroscopy. However, rather than entering your body through your mouth, the tube is inserted through your anus to examine your large intestine and rectum.


  • Stool test: Conducted to rule out any infection.


  • Blood test: Conducted to check for anaemia as well as rule out conditions, such as celiac disease.


  • Complete medical history: Your medical history, including symptoms, possible food triggers, and family history, will be asked by your gastroenterologist to get a better grasp of the possibility of developing IBS.



An upset stomach is not the same as IBS. An upset stomach generally lasts a few days and resolves spontaneously, while IBS is chronic, though the symptoms can be managed.


Hence, the next time you experience any stomach pains, note when it happens, what the concurrent symptoms are, and how frequently you experience them. If it happens frequently, it might be possible that you have IBS.


If you are unsure, do not hesitate to visit GUTCARE. We are a gastroenterology clinic specialising in your gut system from top to bottom. Our team is experienced in all sorts of conditions, having seen and treated many, from pancreas cancer symptoms to fatty liver symptoms. You can rest assured that you will be in good hands.


Click here to make an appointment with us today!


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