Fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are disorders that both involve chronic pain.
Fibromyalgia is a disorder of the nervous system. It’s characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain throughout the body.
IBS is a gastrointestinal disorder. It’s characterized by:
- abdominal pain
- digestive discomfort
- alternating constipation and diarrhea
The fibromyalgia and IBS connection
According to the UNC Center for Functional GI & Motility Disorders, fibromyalgia occurs in up to 60 percent of people with IBS. And up to 70 percent of people with fibromyalgia have symptoms of IBS.
Fibromyalgia and IBS share common clinical characteristics:
- Both have pain symptoms that can’t be explained by biochemical or structural abnormalities.
- Each condition occurs primarily in women.
- Symptoms are largely associated with stress.
- Disturbed sleep and fatigue are common in both.
- Psychotherapy and behavioral therapy can effectively treat either condition.
- The same medications can treat both conditions.
Exactly how fibromyalgia and IBS are related isn’t well-understood. But many pain experts explain the connection as a single disorder that causes pain in different areas over a lifetime.
If you have both fibromyalgia and IBS, your doctor might recommend prescription medications, including:
- tricyclic antidepressants, such as amitriptyline
- serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), such as duloxetine (Cymbalta)
- antiseizure medications, such as gabapentin (Neurontin) and pregabalin (Lyrica)
Your doctor might also suggest nondrug therapies, such as:
- cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- regular exercise
- stress relief
Because fibromyalgia and IBS have similar clinical characteristics and an overlap of symptoms, medical researchers are looking for a connection that might advance the treatment of one or both conditions.
If you have fibromyalgia, IBS, or both, talk to your doctor about the symptoms you’re experiencing and review your treatment options.
As more is learned about fibromyalgia and IBS individually and together, there may be new therapies for you to explore.