IBS and fibromyalgia – the connection and what you should do about it

Fibromyalgia and IBS

Image: CHAjAMP

Are you one of those people that has to think ahead when it comes to eating at someone else’s home or at a restaurant? Do you get nervous that you may have to rush to the bathroom during or immediately after eating your food? Or maybe you experience the other end of the spectrum wherein you are always constipated no matter how healthy you eat. Then there’s the cramping, the gas, the bloating, and mucous in the stool. If you have fibromyalgia and experience these symptoms too, there’s a strong chance you’re simultaneously dealing with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In fact, it is estimated that more than half of IBS patients also have fibromyalgia and nearly 70% of fibro patients also have IBS. Clearly there’s at least some connection between fibromyalgia and IBS.

What’s the link between fibromyalgia and IBS?

We already know that with fibromyalgia, there is some sort of malfunction in the way the nervous system processes pain. This leads to greatly magnified pain that has no boundaries. The condition of IBS is thought to work the same way, such that you have more activity in the parts of your brain that process pain. It is true that we still do not know the exact cause of fibromyalgia. Nevertheless, with both conditions, the nervous system is overly stimulated and so both are chronic pain syndromes.

“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,” explains Dr. Dennis Ang, associate professor of rheumatology and immunology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina. He adds: “The brain has two parts when it comes to pain – one part that suppresses pain and one part that facilitates pain. In people with IBS and/or fibromyalgia, the part that reduces pain doesn’t function properly in order to reduce painful stimuli.” Thus, the magnified pain. On a side note, don’t you wish you could have Dr. Ang around when you need to explain your fibro to your family and friends?

It interesting to note that IBS has no known cause either; however, people with high levels of anxiety or under intense stress are usually prone to IBS. Sound familiar? These are some of the very things linked to fibromyalgia as well. Furthermore, just as more women are prone to fibromyalgia, so are they prone to IBS. Researchers believe that hormonal changes may play a role in the IBS, especially since it tends to flare up around the same time as menstruation.

What can I do about it?

Interestingly enough, antidepressants can help both fibromyalgia and IBS simultaneously. Not only do they help with pain and fatigue, they also help with the pain associated with IBS. Although many fibro patients struggle with these medications because they often exacerbate certain symptoms such as fatigue. If this is counter-productive for you, then it is probably best to try a different method. For example, if your condition allows you (and this can vary from day to day, of course), Dr. Ang encourages low-intensity aerobic exercise because “being sedentary magnifies the symptoms of both fibromyalgia and IBS.”

You hear it over and over again because it’s actually effective, but minimizing stresshttp://www.fibromyalgiatreating.com/benefits-cognitive-behavioral-therapy-fibromyalgia-patients/ in as many ways as possible will help with both your fibromyalgia and IBS symptoms. Stress exacerbates both conditions, so de-stressing or minimizing stress can go a long way towards improving symptoms and leading to better functionality. There’s always the standard go-to activities like yoga and walking, but don’t rule out a simple change of schedule. There are still other ways to mitigate stress, such as through acupuncture and counseling.

The idea here is to treat not just the physical symptoms, but also the mental symptoms that actually lead to the physical symptoms. That is really getting to the heart of the problem anyway. More than likely, you will have to experiment and even try a few methods at a time. If you have found something in particular that has been effective for you in managing your IBS and fibromyalgia together, please share it. We need all the ideas we can get!



Comments 1

Lorraine Novak says:
I have been diagnosed with ibs along with fibromyalgia,how do you deal?I feel so lost and tired of doctors dismissing me like I am crazy.I don’t feel like being social with anyone.