What is Difference Between Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Carcinoid Syndrome?

By: Researcher Taymur

Doctors are diagnosing metastatic carcinoid tumors (MCTs) increasingly better. Nevertheless, the varying symptoms of an MCT can sometimes lead to misdiagnosis and inappropriate care until it is discovered that a carcinoid tumor is behind these symptoms. Carcinoid tumors are often initially misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or Crohn’s disease, or as a symptom of menopause in women, according to the National Organization for Rare Disorders.

Understanding the similarities between carcinoid syndrome symptoms and IBS will give you an idea of what disorder you may have and what you should ask your doctor to find out for sure.

Understanding MCTs Major Symptoms

Most carcinoid tumors do not cause symptoms, according to the American Family Physicist newspaper. A surgeon often discovers one of these tumors while performing surgery for another issue, such as acute pancreatitis, bowel blockage of a person, or reproductive tract diseases of a woman.

A variety of hormones that affect the body can be secreted by carcinoid tumors, the most important being serotonin. Increased serotonin in your body may stimulate your intestine, causing symptoms similar to IBS, particularly diarrhea. Some MCT-related symptoms include:

  • muscle and joint aches
  • wheezing
  • flushing
  • heart problems i.e. irregular heartbeats
  • changes in lowering blood pressure

Because MCT-related diarrhea usually gets worse after a person eats foods that contain a substance called tyramine. Therefore wine, cheese, and chocolate are all products containing tyramine.

So over time, MCT-related abdominal symptoms may have additional harmful effects. However these include weight loss as stool moves through your intestines so rapidly that there is no space for your body to absorb nutrients. For similar reasons, dehydration and malnutrition can also occur.

Understanding Differences Between IBS and MCTs

It is easy to see how an MCT can be misdiagnosed as IBS, considering the symptoms of IBS. Some key factors, however, can lead a physician to suggest diagnostic tests for an MCT.

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1st is Age Diagnosis

While a person may develop IBS at any age, according to the Mayo Clinic, women under the age of 45 are most likely to be diagnosed with IBS. The average age of a person with an MCT, on the other hand, starts to see signs between 50 and 60.

2nd is Flushing Wheezing Breathing Issue

So a person with an MCT may experience wheezing and diarrhea as well as chalk these symptoms to various problems. Because they may, blame a cold for wheezing and IBS for their diarrhea. Therefore the symptoms associated with MCTs, however, are not always based on one process in the body of a person.

Therefore knowing this, it is important that you explain to your doctor all the unusual symptoms that you have experienced, even if they do not appear to be related. For example, if you have experienced diarrhea as well as flushing, wheezing, or general breathing difficulty, so you should share it. Because in general, in 58 percent of those with an MCT, diarrhea and flushing occur simultaneously.

3rd is Weight Loss

While a person with IBS may experience weight loss due to their diarrhea, with MCTs or another more serious disorder this symptom is more likely to occur. Weight loss is known as a “red flag sign” although, according to the research, the underlying cause is not IBS.

Understanding Continued Abdominal Symptoms

Often people with MCT will experience different abdominal symptoms without a diagnosis for many years. Because if your symptoms have not responded to treatment or appear to only improve with the removal of tyramine-containing substances from your diet, this may be a signal to ask your doctor to continue digging.

Types of MCT diagnostic tests include:

  • therefore test the urine for 24 hours for 5-HIAA, a body by-product which breaks down serotonin 
  • however check your blood for compound chromogranin-A
  • so use imaging scans, such as CT scans and MRI scans, to determine the possible location of MCT.


Therefore the average time from the start to diagnosis of MCT symptoms is 9 years Trusted Source. So while this seems to be a very long time, this shows how hard it can be to identify an MCT, and sometimes frustrating it can be.

However if you have symptoms that go beyond diarrhea, talk with your doctor about doing MCT research. Because most people with MCT do not seek treatment until the tumor has spread and begins to cause further symptoms. So if you take steps early on for additional tests or your doctor identifies MCT, they may be able to remove the tumor and prevent it from spreading.

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