Irritable bowel syndrome affects between 25 and 55 million Americans every year. Characterized by abdominal cramping, bloating, and changes in bowel function, IBS is a very uncomfortable condition, which can interfere with all aspects of life.
Fibromyalgia is often associated with IBS, and anywhere between 30% and 70% of fibromyalgia sufferers will have to battle with this illness. In fact, more and more research indicates that the causes of fibromyalgia and IBS are similar, and perhaps even identical. If you are suffering from symptoms of IBS with fibromyalgia syndrome, read on to discover more about this illness.
What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome
IBS is a condition that affects the large intestine, commonly called the bowel. It is characterized by an extreme sensitivity to muscle contractions in the large intestine, which can cause symptoms including diarrhea and constipation.
Like fibromyalgia, IBS is classified as a functional disorder because there is no clear structural or chemical cause for the condition.
IBS is thought to affect as many as 70% of fibromyalgia sufferers. It tends to affect women more than men, although large numbers of men, women, and children are all affected by the syndrome.
Generally, women are three times more likely to develop IBS. People with both fibromyalgia and IBS tend to suffer from more severe symptoms than those with only one of the syndromes. If you have IBS and fibromyalgia symptoms, it is important that you find a treatment that can address both syndromes.
Onset of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Like fibromyalgia, IBS tends to occur after a particularly traumatic or stressful life event. IBS may begin after an illness, a move, or beginning a new job. Much like fibromyalgia, stress is one of the larger causes or irritable bowel syndrome symptoms.
Stress exacerbates contractions, diarrhea, constipation, and flatulence. Other triggers include specific foods, especially chocolate, milk products, and alcohol, certain smells, and certain medications.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms
IBS is not a very nice illness to have. Depending upon its severity, IBS can really impact your day-to-day life, making it impossible to attend social functions, go to work or school, or even travel short distances away from home. If you have IBS, you will probably experience all three of these symptoms:
- abdominal pain relieved by bowel movements
- change in the frequency of bowel movements
- change in the look of bowel movements
IBS is a chronic illness that tends to get worse over time or is exacerbated by certain foods or medicines. If you suffer from IBS, you should also keep a record of the foods that you have been eating as well as your symptoms.
If you have IBS, you may suffer from some or all of the following symptoms:
- moderate to severe abdominal cramping
- bloating after eating
- lack of appetite
- very loose or watery stools
- very hard, pebble-like stools
- stools covered in stringy mucous
- more than 3 bowel movements every day
- extreme urgency or fecal incontinence
Cause of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
The causes of IBS are still unknown; however, recent research does show that IBS syndrome may be caused by a problem with neurotransmitters in the brain, much like fibromyalgia.
Similar to fibromyalgia, IBS is often thought of as an illness caused by psychological reasons, such as stress.
However, new studies show that psychological factors may not be the only ones at play in causing the illness.
In order to rid your body of excess wastes, your intestines contract, pushing stool out of your body. People with IBS seem to have an overactive bowel that continuously contracts. This continuous contraction causes the cramping, bloating, and bowel difficulties associated with the illness.
It is thought that people with IBS have an extra sensitivity to pain and contractions that occur in their gastrointestinal tract. This is very similar to people with fibromyalgia, who have an extreme sensitivity to pain in their muscles and skin.
It has been theorized that both disorders are caused by problems with the brain’s ability to process pain signals Somehow, the brain interprets pain signals as being much more intense than they really are, resulting in severe discomfort, and sometimes even disability.
Fibromyalgia and Irritable Bowel Syndrome
For people suffering from both fibromyalgia and IBS, it is important to understand how the two illnesses can impact upon each other. As many as 70% of fibromyalgia sufferers have IBS; similarly, 1 in 5 IBS sufferers have fibromyalgia.
Dealing with both illnesses at the same time can be very difficult because the symptoms tend to be much more severe.
IBS makes fibro symptoms worse
Recent studies have shown that people who have both IBS and fibromyalgia suffer from symptoms that are 38% more severe than those who only have one illness. IBS tends to exacerbate fibromyalgia pain and fatigue, while fibromyalgia tends to increase the severity and frequency of IBS symptoms.
Studies also show that people with both illnesses tend to have a worse quality of life than those with only one. This is because of the limitations that the disease can put on your daily lifestyle.
Self treatment options often prove very helpful to those who are suffering from mild forms of irritable bowel syndrome. An easy way to find some relief from your symptoms, including constipation, diarrhea and gas, is through simple changes to your diet.
Keep a diary of the foods that you eat and any symptoms that occur afterwards. If you notice that certain foods are triggering your symptoms, try to reduce or eliminate them.
For those suffering from constipation, try to increase the amount of fiber in your diet by eating more whole grain foods. Try drinking 8 to 10 glasses of water every day to help ease both constipation and diarrhea.
Stress and anxiety often exacerbate symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. This is because receptors in your brain are directly connected to nerves in your gastrointestinal tract. Aim to reduce stress by getting proper sleep, engaging in daily exercise, and by getting counseling for your emotional needs.
Sometimes self-treatments just aren’t enough to help battle irritable bowel syndrome. Speak with your doctor about over-the-counter and prescription drugs that may help to reduce your irritable bowel syndrome symptoms and increase your comfort level.
Laxatives and stool softeners are often the first-line approach to treating constipation caused by irritable bowel syndrome. Over-the-counter drugs like Colace help water mix with waste thus softening stool. These laxatives should not be taken for extended periods though, because they can cause dependence.
If you suffer from diarrhea, then you may want to try anti-diarrheals or anti-spasmodic medications. Anti-diarrheals help to alleviate the pain and cramping caused by diarrhea. Imodium, an over-the-counter drug, is very effective at slowing the action of the bowel, thus reducing diarrhea.
Anti-spasmodic prescription drugs work to relieve diarrhea by relaxing muscles in the wall of your gut. They also reduce contractions and cramping caused by diarrhea.
A popular anti-spasmodic for irritable bowel syndrome is dicyclomine, sold under the brand name Bentyl. Bentyl is associated with side effects including: dry mouth, dizziness, blurred vision, and nausea.
IBS Specific Medications
In the past two IBS-specific medications for women have been put on the market.
Alosetron hydrochloride, sold under the brand name Lotronex, offers relief from diarrheal IBS. It works on the neurons in the digestive tract to slow waste production.
Tegaserod maleate, sold under the brand name Zelnom, is used to treat severe constipation. It works by increasing stool movement through the bowels.
If you are suffering from both IBS and fibromyalgia, it is important to inform your health care provider so you can get appropriate treatment.