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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Fibromyalgia

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is one of the more common gastrointestinal conditions which are present in 8-20% of the general population. There have been several studies that have shown that the condition is more common in women than in men at a ratio of 2:1 or 3:1. This shows that the condition affects nearly 14-24% of women and 5-19% of men.

Symptoms of IBS

The typical presentation of the condition includes continued, persistent or recurrent abdominal pain and/or discomfort and associated alterations in bowel habits. Some may have predominant constipation while others have predominant diarrhea.

There are several non-gastrointestinal symptoms that affect these individuals as well. These include rheumatologic symptoms, such as skin rashes, muscle contractions, muscle pain (myalgia), headache etc. These symptoms have been seen in nearly two-thirds of irritable bowel syndrome patients.

Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is part of a general class of chronic musculoskeletal pain syndromes. It is a pain disorder that leads to several painful points over muscles. There are characteristic symptoms of generalized muscle stiffness, pain, fatigue and an abnormal sleep pattern.

After osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia is one of the most common disorders seen in community rheumatology practice. The incidence of new cases of this disease is 10% to 20% in rheumatology clinics and 2.1% to 5.7% in general practice clinics.

The condition affects 3.4% for women and 0.5% for men. Diagnosis is made by presence of pain and painful tender points established by the American College of Rheumatology in 1990.

IBS and Fibromyalgia

There have been several studies that show that the features of irritable bowel syndrome typically overlap those of fibromyalgia syndrome in the same patient, suggesting a common cause.

Fibromyalgia occurs in up to 60% of patients with irritable bowel syndrome and up to 70% of patients with a diagnosis of fibromyalgia have symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.

Common clinical characteristics between IBS and fibromyalgia

Common clinical characteristics between the two conditions include:-

  • both are functional pain disorders and there are no detectable biochemical or structural abnormalities in the diseases
  • both occur predominantly in women
  • most of the patients suffer from onset or exacerbation of the symptoms of these two conditions after stressful life events
  • both diseases are characterised by disturbed sleep and fatigue
  • behavioral therapies and psychological therapies are effective in both conditions
  • certain medications can treat symptoms of both conditions

Reviewed by , BA Hons (Cantab)

Further Reading

Last Updated: Jun 19, 2013

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Comments
  1. Southern Lady Southern Lady United States says:

    IBS/C started in preteen years. Endometriosis diagnosed in late 20's. I always seemed to be more anxious than those whom I considered to be better than me in some ?way.  Began in early 30's have strange episodes in my sleep like I was dying (or imagined it would feel), When husband left me with 2 small sons IBS/C pain was horrific but had to work. A month before that my brother (post polio syndrome) died in his sleep.  I had no regular heartbeat for several days, but I canceled appointment when it stopped.  Doctors never believed anything I told them and I knew that with a normal heart rhythm visit would be useless.  When later it recurred and lasted several days without regular rhythm I went to the ER so they could check me while it was abnormal.  That is when I first heard the words MVP.  Happened to find a book written by Lynn Fredrickson, a nurse at MVPS in Alabama.  It seemed to tie everything together: dysautonomia for most of it.  But, back to night time episodes:  I began having clusters of strange feelings followed by extreme weakness.  My sons called an ambulance when they witnessed a seizure at night, but still no one believed them.  My 3rd tongue chewer was a bed wetter.  I called my brother to take me to ER.  When feeling came back to tongue in exam room the doctor saw my tongue.  Neurologist put me on Dilatin and strange episodes were under control for awhile.  Dilantin had to be increased. Oh, did I mention fibro started and with it I started having what I described as flu like symptoms.  Have had additional types of seizures in my 60's and Keppra was added.  I have chronic pain and after two colon surgeries it seems I am always in pain, aching, tense, and so weary.

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