Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Fibromyalgia
Struggling with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is sadly a common occurrence among those with fibromyalgia. In this post, we’ll break down the details of IBS and its relationship to fibro.
There isn’t a whole lot of mystery in the name Irritable Bowel Syndrome; if you have it, your bowels are, well, irritated and subject to a lot of the common digestive problems everyone gets from time to time: abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, nausea, constipation, diarrhea, and more. If you have IBS though, these problems never really go away. They might get better for a while, but inevitably flare back up again eventually. It’s an awful condition that a large percentage of the population has to live with on a daily basis.
There is a ton of overlap between irritable bowel syndrome and fibromyalgia, which is why we decided to feature IBS as one of our first related conditions posts. Both are classified as chronic pain conditions. There is even some speculation that they are caused by the same triggers. Dr. Dennis Ang, associate professor of rheumatology and immunology, states that “IBS and fibromyalgia have a shared mechanism in that both are associated with hypersensitivity of the brain cells to stimuli, be it touch, light, or temperature changes.”
Clearly, there is a mind-gut connection at work here. In fact, the walls of your intestines are lined with layers of muscle that contract as they move food through your digestive tract. And as we discussed in earlier Fibro Pulse posts, fibromyalgia is characterized by muscle pain. With compromised muscles and nerves, it’s very hard for your digestive system to function properly. It’s little surprise then, that about 70% of fibro patients also have IBS.
IBS Causes & Risk Factors
But the connection is even greater than that. Around 60% of all IBS patients also have fibromyalgia! Overall, IBS is present in 8-20% of the general population, so this isn’t some rare disease we’re talking about here.
Other risk factors include:
- Being under 50 years old.
- Being female; women are two to three times as likely to develop IBS as men.
- Having a family member with the condition; this makes you three times as likely to develop it yourself.
- And having mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, or a history of abuse.
Like fibromyalgia, no one really knows what causes Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Many people report symptoms starting after a particularly stressful or traumatic experience. Others trace their IBS back to a severe infection of gastroenteritis, also known as stomach flu. Other potential causes include inflammation in the intestines, muscle contractions in the intestines, and nervous system abnormalities that disrupt the signals between your brain and intestines.
Diagnosis of IBS is tricky; just like fibro – it’s a diagnosis of elimination, as both conditions are functional disorders where your body isn’t working as it should, but doctors can’t see anything wrong with you. The best they can do is ask you questions to pinpoint symptoms and run some tests that can exclude other digestive conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, colon cancer, and food sensitivities.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome has a wide array of symptoms that range from unpleasant to downright painful. The ones that probably stand out the most are constipation and diarrhea. Those with IBS can struggle with one a lot more than the other, but it’s also not uncommon for people to experience bouts of constipation followed by diarrhea or vice-versa.
Ok, apologies in advance for getting a little graphic here. Constipation is characterized by hard stools that looks like rabbit pellets or pebbles. It is hard to get out and you might go days between going. If you have healthy bowel movements they should be happening daily and come out smooth, soft, and look more like a banana or a snake. I only mention this because while most of us know what diarrhea looks like, there are a lot of people out there that are chronically constipated but don’t realize it because their movements are “regular” – as in every three days or something – and always look like that.
Anyway, back to the other symptoms. There’s a laundry list here so we’re not going to go into too much detail. These include:
- Abdominal Pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Mucus in the stool
How do you get any reprieve from all these bowel problems? Well, there are a number of treatments that have proven effective. Let’s start with ways to prevent Irritable Bowel Syndrome from flaring up in the first place. If IBS is a problem for you, you’re going to want to avoid NSAIDs like ibuprofen as much as possible due to their side effect of exacerbating leaky gut. Another medication to avoid if possible is opiates, since these are extremely constipating. So much so, in fact, that you probably have to take a daily laxative if you need opiates to control your pain.
Proper diet and exercise also prevent IBS from flaring. Try eating high-fiber foods, drink plenty of fluids, and eat at regular times. Avoid high-gas foods such as carbonated beverages, caffeine, raw fruit, broccoli. Therapeutic movement is important because being sedentary greatly magnifies IBS problems. Try some low-intensity aerobic exercises or progressive relaxation exercises to help your body induce a relaxation response that will activate your rest-and-digest system.
Some more active or direct treatments include taking daily probiotics, digestive enzymes with meals, and L-glutamine supplements. Probiotics are a great one that really helped me a lot. Along those lines, be sure to change brands of probiotics every few months to get a diversity of beneficial gut bacteria, since each probiotic contains specific species of bacteria and you’re going to want a good mix.
Finally, cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to be effective at treating IBS, though it’s not super specific to the condition. What it will do is help change your response to stress in a more healthy way, which will indirectly help with IBS and a number of other health problems as well.
Are you one of the minority who have fibromyalgia but not IBS? If you have both, which did you notice first? Do you have any specific brands of probiotics that you swear by that you’d like to share with the community?
Please let us know in the comments below!
• The Fibro Manual by Dr. Ginevra Liptan (2016) http://www.drliptan.com/book/