Bowel & Bladder Problems in Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

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This post is a part of the blog carnival on Shame and Silence Surrounding Bowel Issues, hosted by IBS Expert Barbara Bolen.

When was the last time you discussed poop with your doctor?  Even for us frequent visitors with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, it's rarely comfortable to discuss the things we do in the bathroom, or the parts of the body associated with them.

The shame and silence around bowel and bladder issues is something we need to confront and overcome.

  Did you know that in addition to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), we're especially prone to a painful bladder condition called interstitial cystitis (IC)?  The pain from either of these conditions can be debilitating on their own, and a lot of people who suffer from them become afraid of being in situations where they might not be able to get to a bathroom on time.

Symptoms to Watch For

If you have abdominal pains that are relieved by a bowel movement, regular diarrhea or constipation (sometimes alternating with each other), gas and bloating, you should ask you doctor about IBS.  Actually, if you have any change in your bowel movements, you should let your doctor know -- that's often a sign of something gone wrong in your system.  It could also be a side effect of medication or supplements.

We also need to be aware that bladder pain and other urinary problems are not symptoms of fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome -- they're symptoms of IC.

  Other symptoms include painful urination (frequently misdiagnosed as a urinary tract infection), urgent and frequent needs to go (8+ times a day), pelvic pain and pain after intercourse.  If you suspect you have IC, be sure to mention the condition to your doctor.  Many of them have never encountered it before and won't recognize it.

  (If pain is primarily associated with intercourse, you also need to ask your doctor about vulvodynia, which is common in us.)

Why the Shame?

Remember when the words "pee" or "poop" were about the funniest things ever?  Comedic entertainment is full of fart jokes, which generally lose their appeal as we get older.  It's odd that we first find these issues hilarious, then become crippled with shame right around the time we're old enough for things to go wrong with them!

Looking at my own children, I can see how this progresses: first, we celebrate each victory in the bathroom and teach them words to communicate about their potty needs; then, when they start using that vocabulary to be funny, we tell them it's bad; when they start school, they learn that "bathroom words" are not allowed in class.  Once kids are potty trained, every message they get is "that's icky and dirty and we don't talk about it!"  It's no wonder we're reluctant to bring it up, especially in that most serious of places: the doctor's office.

I get mild IBS symptoms from gluten, so I've been there -- knowing something was wrong and I'd have to bring it up.  Want to know what happened when I did?  My doctor became concerned and started tests, then gave me a referral to a specialist.  To him, it was no more unusual than saying, "Hey doc, my knee hurts."  Experiencing that made it a lot easier for me the next time, because I didn't get that uncomfortable reaction that's common in social settings when someone brings up a taboo subject.

If you can't imagine ever talking to your doctor about certain symptoms, try these things:

  • Write down your symptoms so the doctor's office isn't the first place you try to express them;
  • Look for medical terminology to replace the words you're not comfortable saying;
  • Practice saying your symptoms aloud;
  • If you still can't face saying them to your doctor, just hand him/her your list.

The important thing is that you're aware of what's going on with your bowel and bladder health and that you tell your doctor what's going on.  The state of our waste products reflects the state of our overall health, and we can't afford to let problems grow and fester because we're ashamed to talk about them.

Here's where you can learn more about these issues:

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