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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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