When IBS and Fibromyalgia Go Together

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Do you have fibromyalgia alongside your IBS? Sadly, you are far from alone. Researchers have found that there is a large overlap between the two disorders. Since both are chronic, poorly understood, and hard to treat disorders, looking for common ground between the two is a way for researchers to try to understand what causes - and what might help treat - the symptoms of each. Let's take a look at the overlap between fibromyalgia and IBS.

What Is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a disorder in which people experience chronic, whole body muscle pain and tenderness, along with chronic feelings of fatigue. In addition to pain and fatigue, FM symptoms include:

  • "Fibro fog" - concentration and memory difficulties
  • Headaches
  • Muscle stiffness in the morning
  • Painful menstrual periods
  • Sleep difficulty
  • Tingling and numbness in extremities

In addition to the above symptoms, people who have fibromyalgia are prone to symptoms throughout their bodies, including vision problems, digestive symptoms, anxiety and depression, and a whole host of other health problems. For a full list of fibromyalgia-related symptoms, see "Fibromyalgia Symptoms: The Monster List".

Fibromyalgia is believed to be present in as much as 3% of the world's population, including approximately 5 million Americans. It affects a significantly higher number of women than men. Although it may be diagnosed in a small number of children, most diagnoses are made when people hit middle age.

Overlap Between Fibromyalgia and IBS

Fibromyalgia is unfortunately a disorder in which patients have a high rate of overlapping illness. Arthritis, thyroid disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and endometriosis are just a few of the diagnoses that can be found on a list of overlapping health conditions.

And IBS is no exception. Approximately half of all fibromyalgia patients have IBS. When we look at the question the other way around, approximately 30% of people who have IBS also have fibromyalgia.

Given these head count numbers, it is not surprising that there are strong similarities in the theories as to what is behind each disorder:

Interestingly, one small study found a relatively high percentage of undiagnosed celiac disease in patients who had both IBS and fibromyalgia. Although this can only be considered a preliminary finding, it is in line with research that shows that celiac disease is under-diagnosed in IBS patients in general.

What To Do If You Have Both

Because so little is known about the causes of each disorder, there are no hard-and-fast guidelines as to what to do if you have both. Therefore, all we can do is apply a little bit of common sense.

1. Ask you doctor to test you for celiac disease. It is important that you are still eating gluten-containing foods at the time of testing in order for the test to be accurate.

2. Work to establish good sleep habits. The symptoms of both disorders appear to respond favorably to good sleep.

3. Follow an anti-inflammatory diet. Chronic inflammation is thought to play a role in the symptoms of both diets.

4. Engage in stress management activities. Stress may not be the cause of either IBS or fibromyalgia, but it certainly can make symptoms worse!

5. Engage in mind-body activities. Activities such as meditation, yoga and/or tai chi can help to quiet a hyper-reactive central nervous system.



"What Is Fibromyalgia?" NIH: National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases Dated November 2014.

Rodrigo, L., et.al. "Remarkable prevalence of coeliac disease in patients with irritable bowel syndrome plus fibromyalgia in comparison with those with isolated irritable bowel syndrome: a case-finding study." Arthritis Research & Therapy 2013 15:R201.

Tremolaterra, F., et.al. "The severity of irritable bowel syndrome or the presence of fibromyalgia influencing the perception of visceral and somatic stimuli" BMC Gastroenterology 2014 14:182.

Yang, T., et.al. "Risk for Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Fibromyalgia Patients: A National Database Study" Medicine 2015 94:e616.

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