Fibromyalgia information and self-care tips for living a better life despite chronic illness.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) & Fibromyalgia

Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Fibromyalgia

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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), a common gastrointestinal condition and fibromyalgia often occur together. Fibromyalgia occurs in up to 60% of patients with irritable bowel syndrome and up to 70% of patients with fibromyalgia have symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. IBS and fibromyalgia are both chronic pain syndromes and symptoms can overlap between the two conditions.

IBS and fibromyalgia have a shared mechanism in that both are associated with hypersensitivity to stimuli (touch, light, or temperature changes). The main difference is that people with IBS have hypersensitivity in their intestines, and people with fibromyalgia have hypersensitivity in their skin and muscle tissues.

What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

IBS is a condition that affects the large intestine. It is characterized by an extreme sensitivity to muscle contractions in the colon. IBS is a chronic illness that tends to get worse over time or is exacerbated by certain foods or medicines.

Depending upon its severity, IBS can really impact your day-to-day life, making it impossible to attend social functions, go to work, or even travel short distances away from home.

Understanding Fibromyalgia

Symptoms Of IBS

Irritable bowel syndrome commonly causes persistent or recurrent cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea and constipation. Symptoms often occur after a meal, during stressful times, or during menstruation.

You may experience these symptoms:

  • Bloating and/or gas
  • Moderate to severe abdominal cramping that may be relieved by bowel movements
  • Change in the frequency of bowel movements or extreme urgency or fecal incontinence
  • Change in the look of bowel movements such as very loose or watery stools or very hard, pebble-like stools or mucus in the stool

There are several non-gastrointestinal symptoms as well. These symptoms have been seen in nearly two-thirds of irritable bowel syndrome patients. These include:

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  • Anxiety or depression
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • An unpleasant taste in the mouth
  • Backache, muscle pain, muscle contractions
  • Sleep problems
  • Sexual problems such as pain during sex or reduced sexual desire
  • Heart palpitations, you may feel like your heart skips a beat or is fluttering.
  • Urinary symptoms such as frequent or urgent need to urinate, trouble starting the urine stream, or trouble emptying your bladder
  • Skin rashes

Even though symptoms are uncomfortable, IBS — unlike ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, which are forms of inflammatory bowel disease — doesn’t cause changes in bowel tissue or increase your risk of colorectal cancer.

Coping With IBS

Coping with IBS usually includes lifestyle changes and stress management. The first step should be to identify what triggers the symptoms. Factors to consider include food intolerance, eating habits, dietary factors, emotional stress and exercise habits. Making some changes can provide relief.

Here are some tips that might help:

  • Keep a daily diary of what you eat and whether you have symptoms after eating. Also include what you were doing, how you were feeling, and what type of food or medications you consumed before symptoms appeared.
  • Limit or eliminate foods that may make diarrhea, gas, and bloating worse. These may include caffeine, alcohol, carbonated drinks, milk products, foods high in sugar, fatty foods, gas-producing foods and artificial sweeteners.
  • To reduce constipation, add fiber to your diet, drink plenty of water, and get regular exercise.
  • Eat slowly and have meals in a quiet, relaxing environment. Don’t skip meals.
  • Try to reduce stress. Meditation and other stress management techniques may also be valuable in dealing with uncomfortable situations.
  • Enteric coated peppermint is a natural remedy used to reduce the abdominal pain and bloating of irritable bowel syndrome. Peppermint will eliminate excess gas in the intestines.
  • Take a probiotic. Some studies suggest that probiotic supplements, especially those with a predominance of Bifidobacterium infantis, alleviate IBS symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, and bowel movement irregularity.

If lifestyle changes aren’t enough to manage symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, you may need to talk to your doctor about medication. Few medicines have proved consistently helpful, and all medicines have side effects. So medicine should be used for specific symptoms that disrupt your normal daily activities.


Studies have found that IBS typically overlaps with fibromyalgia syndrome in the same patient, suggesting a common cause. The results of one particular study indicate the link between irritable bowel syndrome and fibromyalgia may be related to the presence of bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Fibromyalgia
Image courtesy of Ohmega198 at

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