Food-Related Problems in Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Identifying and Managing Food-Related Problems

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Do you have intestinal pain or other digestive symptoms? You're not alone. Fibromyalgia (FMS) and chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) are often accompanied by food-related problems, both as symptoms and as overlapping conditions. These issues can be difficult to diagnose and manage, but proper treatment can help you feel a lot better.

Two common causes of digestive problems in us are irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and food intolerance (sometimes called food sensitivity) and food allergies.

These are problems that won't get better with standard FMS & ME/CFS treatment, so it's important to work with your doctor to figure out what's causing your symptoms.

The pain from IBS and food intolerance can range from mild to severe and could be hard to distinguish from FMS pain. Watch for pain that occurs after eating, is in a consistent place, and comes along with other digestive symptoms, such as diarrhea or bloating. Keeping a food log and symptom journal can help you identify patterns.

A food allergy, which is not the same as an intolerance, will have different symptoms that can be swift and deadly. Make sure you know the symptoms and what to do about them if you suspect a food allergy.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

IBS is a common overlapping condition. IBS can cause a host of abdominal symptoms, including:

  • Constipation,
  • Diarrhea,
  • Alternating bouts of constipation & diarrhea,
  • Nausea & vomiting,
  • Gas & bloating.

As with FMS & ME/CFS, test results generally show nothing. I went through a whole battery of tests with negative results. The only physiological thing my GI doctor found was that, during colonoscopy, my intestinal wall spasmed every time it was touched. That used to be diagnosed as "spastic colon," but it's now called IBS.

We don't know why IBS is common in fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, but they appear to share some common physiology. Learn more about that, plus how it's diagnosed and treated, here:

Food Intolerance & Allergies

Many people with these conditions find that certain foods bother them. Sometimes, those foods exacerbate their FMS/ME/CFS symptoms. Other times, the foods cause a new set of symptoms to occur.

Food intolerance and allergies can be a symptom of these conditions, but it's important to discuss these problems with your doctor in case they come from an undiagnosed illness. Also, they'll need to be treated in their own right whether they're FMS/ME/CFS-related or not.

Food intolerance and food allergy are two different things: allergies cause a specific type of physiological reaction that includes inflammation and histamine release. For example, a milk allergy can make someone's throat swell shut and cause a rash, whereas lactose intolerance will give you digestive issues.

Confusing the issue, a lot of people with food intolerance will refer to it as an allergy, either because they don't understand the difference or because it's easier to explain them to people that way.

If you suspect a true allergy, make sure you talk to a doctor about it right away. These articles from Food Allergy Expert Jill Castle have a lot of great information for you:

You can become intolerant of just about any kind of food, and it's hard to identify which one is the problem. A useful tool for identifying which foods bother you is an elimination diet. You can learn more about that here:

    It's important to remember that your food intolerance and allergies may shift. I've been through an elimination diet several times, each time with a different result. Keep in mind that new symptoms may point to a new problem, so don't rely on diet results that came before the symptoms.

    A food that's had a lot of attention in the popular media is gluten. It's easy to find people in chat rooms or blogs talking about how a gluten-free diet made their symptoms disappear, while other people say gluten has no effect on them. See what we know about gluten in these conditions:

    Your Diet

    For more help identifying ways to manage your illness through your diet, and for eating healthily with these illnesses, see:


    Janet M, et al. The Journal of the American Medical Association. 2006;295(8):960. doi:10.1001/jama.295.8.960. Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

    Riedl A, et al. Journal of Psychosomatic Research. 2008 Jun;64(6):573-82. Somatic comorbidities of irritable bowel syndrome: a systematic analysis.

    Wallace DJ, Hallegua DS. Current pain and headache reports. 2004 Oct;8(5):364-8. Fibromyalgia: the gastrointestinal link.

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