Is Ibs An Autoimmune Disease? Here’s The Answer From Experts In 2024

Christine VanDoren, Nutritionist
Sevginur Akdas, RD
Is IBS an autoimmune disease? Discover everything you need to know about this digestive ailment that is affecting more and more people in 2024.
is ibs an autoimmune disease
IBS is a functional disorder of the digestive system. Photo: Shutterstock

Is IBS an autoimmune disease? If you have irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, it’s important to understand the link between it and the immune system. IBS is not classified as an autoimmune disease, but it does have connections to the immune system. 

Despite sharing some associations with the immune system, IBS is not categorized as an autoimmune disorder. Instead, IBS falls under the realm of functional disorders that affect the gastrointestinal, or GI, tract’s normal functioning.

In this article, we’ll help you understand the distinctions between IBS and autoimmune disorders, as well as briefly touch on causes and treatments for IBS. You’d be surprised how much you can do with a healthy diet and probiotics. IBS may be confusing at times, but it doesn’t have to define you.

Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome An Autoimmune Disease?

No, irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is not an autoimmune disease. IBS is a functional disorder marked by symptoms like abdominal pain, discomfort, and changes in bowel habits.

The Link Between IBS And Immune System

IBS is not an immune disorder and has little connection with the immune system. However, several autoimmune disorders, including lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, can have gastrointestinal symptoms very similar to IBS.

IBS is mostly diagnosed and defined by what it is not. It’s described as a functional bowel disease, which means that there is no clear cause of the symptoms, and it’s diagnosed mostly by ruling out other causes, including autoimmune diseases.

However, one recent study[1] suggests that autoimmune diseases such as asthma, allergies, psoriasis, or rheumatoid arthritis, may also increase the risk of IBS and other functional bowel diseases, like functional dyspepsia. Further research is needed before this can be definite, but it’s an interesting correlation. 

One theory relates to mast cells, one of the immune cells, which play a role in both IBS and allergies. It has been suggested that the name atopic IBS be applied to IBS, which is related to or aggravated by allergies. This distinction could help separate IBS, which is related to the immune system, and IBS, which is not. 

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What Is An Autoimmune Disease?

Autoimmune diseases involve the immune system attacking the body’s own tissues, leading to inflammation and tissue damage. Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and multiple sclerosis are all different types of autoimmune diseases. 

Allergies and asthma are also autoimmune diseases. They aren’t usually as serious, but allergy patients[2] have been found to suffer from IBS more often, as we’ve already discussed. Besides, allergies can affect life quality dramatically sometimes. Fewer studies have been done on whether IBS patients also have more allergies than the general population, but there appears to be some correlation.[3]

What Is An Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Is IBS autoimmune? No, IBS is a functional disorder marked by symptoms like abdominal pain, discomfort, and changes in bowel habits. It affects the functionality of the GI tract. 

Although IBS is often affected by food, this isn’t because of allergies; rather, it’s because some foods are harder to digest. Probiotic food can also help IBS symptoms.

Irritable bowel syndrome vs. inflammatory bowel diseaseSince they have similar names — IBS vs. IBD — these different disorders are commonly confused. IBD is an autoimmune disorder, and it’s an overarching category that includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.[4]
Is irritable bowel disease, or IBD,  an autoimmune disease?Yes.
Is IBS an autoimmune disorder?No.

How To Diagnose Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Diagnosing IBS involves excluding other potential causes of symptoms. Before diagnosing IBS, autoimmune tests and allergy tests[5] will usually be done to rule out those causes. Doctors usually consider most types of stomach autoimmune disease, including IBD, before they give out an IBS diagnosis.

Key criteria for diagnosis include recurrent abdominal pain or discomfort for at least six months and changes in bowel habits. A major part of the definition of IBS is that the symptoms don’t have a clear cause, so it’s diagnosed by testing for other conditions that can affect digestive health. If nothing else appears to be the cause, IBS is diagnosed.

Causes Of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Stress And Emotional Factors

Stress and emotional factors[6] can exacerbate IBS symptoms in susceptible individuals. While stress doesn’t directly cause IBS, it can contribute to symptom flare-ups. Stress often manifests itself in our bodies, and those with IBS have more sensitive bodies that react negatively to emotion. 

Dietary Triggers

Certain foods, including those high in fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols, called FODMAPs,[7] can trigger IBS symptoms. Identifying and avoiding these triggers can help manage symptoms. The low-FODMAP diet is severely limiting, but it’s only meant to be temporary until you can figure out which foods are your triggers and which you can eat. 

Gut Microbiota Imbalance

An imbalance in the gut microbiota[8] composition has been linked to IBS. The gut microbiota plays a role in digestion and can influence IBS symptoms. Bacteria and other microorganisms in the gut help digest food and extract nutrients.

This is part of why probiotics can help so much with IBS. Probiotics restore the right microbiota to your gut to help bring it back into balance. 

Treatment Options For IBS

Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Adopting an anti-inflammatory diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help alleviate IBS symptoms by reducing gut inflammation. This diet removes inflammatory foods,[9] like processed sugar and saturated fats, while encouraging foods that reduce inflammation, like fiber, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids.

The low-FODMAP diet mentioned above can also help. Key foods to avoid are dairy products, wheat, soy, and corn syrup. FODMAP diets can be a struggle, but they can bring relief to many IBS patients. 


Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can support gut health.[10] Taking probiotics for IBS can help balance the gut microbiota and manage IBS symptoms. The microbiome of your digestive system can easily be pulled out of balance, especially with IBS, and probiotics help rebalance your digestion. 


Some individuals may benefit from a gut supplement to promote healthy digestion and ease symptoms. Consulting a healthcare provider before starting any supplement is advisable, and not all of these will help your specific case. Fruit and vegetable supplementation may also be helpful; it’s not recommended to use both at the same time. 


IBS is not an autoimmune disease. However, you can have an autoimmune disease and IBS at the same time, and a few studies have found that they occur together at rates slightly higher than coincidence would suggest. However, the rate of comorbidity is still only a few percent. 

Autoimmune diseases result from an overactive immune system that attacks its own body. IBD is an autoimmune disease, or more accurately, a category of autoimmune diseases, mostly ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. 

Irritable bowel syndrome, in contrast, is a functional disorder. This mostly means that there’s no currently diagnosable reason why you have the symptoms you do, which rules out autoimmune causes by definition. Other sources of inflammation, like allergies, can certainly make IBS flare up, though.

IBS can be triggered by stress, food, or an imbalance in your gut, among other things. Although it can’t be treated, it can be managed with methods like diet, probiotics, and supplementation. Reducing stress and living an overall healthy lifestyle may also lead to success in managing irritable bowel syndrome.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does having IBS weaken your immune system?

IBS doesn’t weaken the immune system; it has nothing to do with immune function. It’s a functional GI disorder, not an autoimmune disease. A weak immune system also won’t contribute to IBS; there’s no connection either way.

Is IBD an autoimmune disease?

Inflammatory Bowel Disease, or IBD, includes autoimmune conditions like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. It’s a category of autoimmune disease, not an autoimmune disease itself. For example, ulcerative colitis is a type of inflammatory bowel disease.

Is IBS an inflammatory disease?

IBS is not an inflammatory disease; it’s a functional disorder of the GI tract characterized by symptoms like abdominal discomfort and changes in bowel habits. However, other sources of inflammation can cause a flare-up of the IBS.


  1. Koloski, N., Jones, M., Walker, M.M., Veysey, M., Zala, A., Keely, S., Holtmann, G. and Talley, N.J. (2019). Population based study: atopy and autoimmune diseases are associated with functional dyspepsia and irritable bowel syndrome, independent of psychological distress. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 49(5), pp.546–555. doi:
  2. Fang, Z.-Y., Zhang, H., Lu, C., Lu, Q., Yu, C. and Wang, H. (2018). Association between Allergic Diseases and Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Retrospective Study. International Archives of Allergy and Immunology, [online] 177(2), pp.153–159. doi:
  3. Ellen Johanne Vara, Cecilie Svanes, Trude Duelien Skorge, Aud, Florvaag, E., Jarvis, D., Ernst Omenaas, Waatevik, M., Johannessen, A. and Gülen Arslan Lied (2015). Functional Gastrointestinal Symptoms Are Associated with Higher Serum Total IgE Levels, but Less Atopic Sensitization. Digestive Diseases and Sciences, [online] 61(1), pp.189–197. doi:
  4. Flynn, S. and Eisenstein, S. (2019). Inflammatory Bowel Disease Presentation and Diagnosis. Surgical Clinics of North America, [online] 99(6), pp.1051–1062. doi:
  5. Talley, N.J. (2019). Allergies and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Gastroenterology & hepatology, [online] 15(11), pp.619–621. Available at:
  6. Qin, H., Chung Wah Cheng, Tang, X. and Bian, Z. (2014). Impact of psychological stress on irritable bowel syndrome. World Journal of Gastroenterology, [online] 20(39), pp.14126–14126. doi:
  7. Halmos, E.P., Victoria Alexandra Power, Shepherd, S., Gibson, P.R. and Muir, J.G. (2014). A Diet Low in FODMAPs Reduces Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Gastroenterology, [online] 146(1), pp.67-75.e5. doi:
  8. Shaikh, S.D., Sun, N., Canakis, A., Park, W.Y. and Weber, H.C. (2023). Irritable Bowel Syndrome and the Gut Microbiome: A Comprehensive Review. Journal of Clinical Medicine, [online] 12(7), p.2558. doi:
  9. Asma Salari-Moghaddam, Ammar Hassanzadeh Keshteli, Esmaillzadeh, A. and Adibi, P. (2019). Adherence to the pro-inflammatory diet in relation to prevalence of irritable bowel syndrome. Nutrition Journal, [online] 18(1). doi:
  10. Lakshmi Satish Kumar, Lakshmi Sree Pugalenthi, Ahmad, M., Reddy, S., Zineb Barkhane and Jalal Elmadi (2022). Probiotics in Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Review of Their Therapeutic Role. Cureus. [online] doi:

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