Life with fibromyalgia is anything but comfortable, but some of the symptoms that go along with this disorder might seem to be completely unrelated. Even though the primary symptoms of fibromyalgia are all-over body pain and overwhelming fatigue, other symptoms are also common. Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is common among many fibro sufferers. Although the two issues may not seem to be related, they might have more to do with each other than you think.
Symptoms of IBS
Irritable bowel syndrome is a complicated disorder with very real and disruptive symptoms but little known cause. When you have IBS, you’ll have regular issues with abdominal pain, frequent bloating and irregular bowel symptoms, such as constipation or diarrhea. Although many people with IBS have either mostly constipation or diarrhea, some people alternate between periods of each.
Common Links between Fibro and IBS
Women are much more likely than men to suffer from fibromyalgia or IBS, although men do suffer from both. It’s estimated that more men may suffer from either fibromyalgia or IBS than is reported, though, because men are typically much less likely than women to seek medical care for non-emergency complaints.
Both fibromyalgia and IBS are aggravated by stress or are more likely to flare up during stressful life periods. Both illnesses also have no known cause but are related to pain, disturbed sleep and fatigue. Women are also more likely to experience symptoms of both IBS and fibro during certain phases of their menstrual cycle, which suggests there is a hormonal component.
Overall, 70 percent of patients with diagnosed fibromyalgia also have symptoms of IBS, and 60 percent of those with IBS also have fibromyalgia symptoms.
Gut Changes May be the Reason
Scientists are only starting to realize the complex link between naturally occurring gut bacteria and its effects on other aspects of health. Some previous research shows that an imbalance of bacteria in the intestinal tract can cause multiple health issues, even problems with depression and other aspects of mental health.
Researchers have previously found that an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine can cause irritable bowel syndrome—but the positive side is that this overgrowth is treatable with antibiotics, which then also relieves the IBS symptoms. Now some researchers are testing to see if a similar overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine can cause fibromyalgia, in which case a course of antibiotics could relieve symptoms.
Treatments that Work for Both IBS and Fibro
Although the origin of both fibromyalgia and IBS is unknown and they are definitely real illnesses with real symptoms, antidepressants are often effective at treating them. Opioid pain relievers are generally not effective alone in treating the pain associated with fibromyalgia and IBS, but some people find that opioids combined with antidepressants can be helpful.
Moderate exercise and mindfulness activities like meditation, yoga and tai chi can also provide relief. Reducing stress is a very important component in managing the symptoms of fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome.
Even though fibromyalgia and IBS are both mysterious medical issues that bother millions of people, researchers are working every day to find the cause—and a cure.