Relationship Between Fibromyalgia and IBS

It isn’t clear to me whether or not IBS or IBS-D and other digestive issues are clearly linked to fibromyalgia or any other chronic pain issues, but I will sum up some of my findings to help you get started in your own research.

It is not unusual for fibromyalgia and IBS to run tag team together wreaking havoc. According to everyday Health: “As many as 60 percent of people with IBS also have fibromyalgia and up to 70% of people with fibromyalgia also have IBS.” It is interesting to me as someone who has a fundamental knowledge of diseases and how they work and as someone who struggles with fibromyalgia and IBS-D that not more has been done to understand the correlation between both. “IBS and fibromyalgia have a shared mechanism in that they are both associated with hypersensitivity of the brain cells to stimuli, be it touch, light or temperature changes.” [Dennis Ang, MD and associate professor of rheumatology and immunology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C.] “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.” [Dennis Ang, MD] The end result us a body which feels increased sensations of pain. The difference between the two is people with IBS have hyper sensitivity of intestines while people with fibromyalgia have hyper sensitivity in the skin and muscle tissue. Then there are some of us with both.

Treatment of IBS

Typically, as I have mentioned in the past, the choice of drugs for treating both IBS and fibromyalgia are antidepressants such as: Cymbalta and Elavil. I’d like to focus on non-drug treatment which includes: Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), exercise, stress management, acupuncture, probiotics, meditation and mindfulness and herbal medicine.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy: A form of talk therapy that helps people focus on the relationship between their thoughts, feelings and behaviors. It can help deal with pain and stress management which I can aggravate both conditions.

Exercise: Low intensity aerobic exercise can be helpful for IBS and fibromyalgia.

Stress Management: Both fibromyalgia and IBS are fueled by stress. Yoga, swimming and meditation can be good choices to wind down and alleviate from the stresses of the day.

Acupuncture: It is believed through Ancient Chinese medicine that the needles used in acupuncture influence the life force called qi. However Western Medicine believes that it may stimulate the release of chemicals in the brain that relieve pain. Some research shows that IBS sufferers do get some relief from acupuncture, however, there are almost as many who claim benefits from so called sham-acupuncture and so, there is no clear data to show if it works. What should you do then? I will stick to what I usually advise people and that is this: If you are able to find someone reputable in your area that does acupuncture, try it. If it does not work for you then you know, but it won’t hurt you. It is a personal decision and one that is sometimes made based on what you can afford and acupuncture does not come cheap and neither do all insurance cover it. So do what you feel is right.

Probiotics: They are good bacteria that live in the intestines. You can ingest probiotics through food or supplements. Some researchers believe an imbalance in these bacteria can trigger IBS symptoms. Early studies suggest ingesting them in capsules, tablets, powders, or foods such as yogurt and kefir (a cultured dairy product), may restore you to equilibrium, improving symptoms. There are many different strains of probiotics, including Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, your doctor can help you determine the best type and dose to try for your symptoms.

Meditation and mindfulness: It’s no surprise that emotions, like stress and anxiety can cause gastrointestinal issues. We’ve all experienced some kind of worry or anxiety that has made us sick to our stomach. That doesn’t mean that IBS and other stomach issues are all in your head, just that your physical and psychological health are more intertwined than you might think. When you have IBS, messages between your brain and gut may travel more quickly or slowly, or your nerves may react more sensitively to bodily sensations. In a brief, 10-week study, mindfulness mediation therapy which encourages people to be aware of their present moment, brought relief to people in the study. [] I find that practicing mindfulness is very helpful overall in my life but, as much as I encourage both meditation and mindfulness, I am not sold on its applications toward easing IBS. Still, it does seem to help some people and so I think it is worth taking a closer look at.

Herbal Medicine: Aside from teas, I would not advise using herbal medicine without the supervision of a doctor and/or someone who is experienced in both treatment of IBS and medicinal herbs. Many can have unwanted and potentially life threatening side effects.  This being said, I have long used the following tea blends to ease the nightmare of IBS and its symptoms: chamomile, peppermint and lemon, fennel seed and cardamom and also, bay leaf, ginger and orange peel. Give these a try. It won’t cure the IBS but can help ease the symptoms.

Stay tuned for the next installment where we will be talking about treating inflammation naturally.

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