Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Fibromyalgia

Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Fibromyalgia

By Ed Coghlan

The pain associated with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) can be quite intense.  The pain associated with fibromyalgia is also difficult to endure.

About 70% of patients with fibromyalgia also have IBS, which affects over 25 million people in the U.S.

“In general, it is likely that they coexist for years, but they can flare at the same time or at different times,” Lin Chang, MD, co-director of the Oppenheimer Center for Neurobiology of Stress told WebMD.

IBS is characterized by abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and nausea.  Alternating bouts of constipation and diarrhea are common.  IBS reflects a digestive system that is operating in fits and starts, like a car with a transmission problem.  This is in part due to the excessive activity of the fight or flight nervous system that occurs in fibromyalgia.  Efforts to induce a relaxation response and spend more time with the nervous system in rest-and-digest mode, rather than fight-or-flight mode will help reduce its symptoms.

“Another good treatment for IBS is a daily probiotic supplement to restore a healthy balance of bacteria in the intestine” said Dr. Ginevra Liptan, who runs a fibromyalgia practice near Portland, Oregon.  “To keep up a diverse balance of intestinal bacteria I recommend changing brands every few months to ones with different species. Avoiding foods that cause food sensitivities can also help reduce IBS. The most common culprits are gluten and dairy. It is worth doing a 6-week gluten free trial, followed by a 6-week dairy free trial to determine the effects this might have on your IBS symptoms.”

Dr. Liptan’s new book on fibromyalgia has been doing well since it was released earlier in May.  The Fibro Manual—A Complete Fibromyalgia Treatment Guide for You and Your Doctor addresses questions that both patients and physicians have about fibromyalgia.  Dr. Liptan’s story is well known.  She developed fibromyalgia when she was in medical school which forced her to leave for a year while she learned more about it and develop treatments for it.  She completed medical school and opened the first fibromyalgia practice in the U.S.

If you suffer from fibromyalgia, the National Pain Report would like to get your opinion.  We launched a survey on May 12, which is Fibromyalgia Awareness Day.  We will share the results later in May.  If you haven’t yet taken it, you still have time.

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Authored by: Ed Coghlan

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The clinic I go to has a revolving door of providers and this combined with a total lack of medical knowledge by most of them has made it impossible for me to get any kind of diagnosis other than what I had 8 years ago when they were the only place that would take me as a patient for anything because I had the diagnosis of fibromyalgia
. I am having terrible pain under my ribs that began with a lump that can be easily seen under the lower right rib and has grown to include the entire right side of my ribcage both front and back. I am certain that I have IBS with both constipation and diarrhea and that I have had it since early childhood. They keep insisting that the constipation I have fought with all my life is from the pain medication I take. I haven’t noticed it being any worse since I began pain meds. I first went to these providers because of three trips to the er in one week due to severe constipation (which they did nothing for) and “giving birth to a baseball” of rock hard feces! I hadn’t had anything other than ibuprofen for pain in four years! I have begun to believe that I will never have a complete or correct diagnosis and no one gives a rip!


Recently over the course of 8 weeks I experienced severe abdominal pain. Come to find out via the “Q. Breath Test” ordered by the GI provider the results were positive, H. Pylori and diagnosed with IBS.

The Nurse Practitioner did nothing for pain. I was flat on my back for 8+ weeks.

When I asked the Nurse why the pain is not being addressed through pain medication she said you claimed you have had this for two decades. True. However, I reiterated that it has never been this severe.

I take Humira for another condition and recently the insurance company has delayed shipments on this. Every time I go off the Humira since it’s off and on again that I can get this I become very uncomfortable. This time, the pain became unbearable.

Humira, approved for AR in 2002 and approved for ulceration colitis in 2012, does help by suppressing the immune system. I am wondering if this time going off of the Humira the infection aggressively became worse causing the severe pain.

Does anyone know?

After seen the GI physician over four weeks ago prior to being switched to the Nurse Practitioner, I just now got the correct antibiotics but nothing to treat the severe pain until the antibiotics take affect — unbelievable that it took this long due to the ball getting dropped.

I have asked many times what the reason was for not giving me pain medication. Finally the response was this, “In my 40 years of practice I’ve never seen a patient that had this much pain from H. Pylori.”

I said that many articles appearing on healthcare web sites state that this can cause ulcers and can become a life threatening infection and that since Humira is relatively new is it possible that the there is a correlation here where going off of it enabled the bacteria to take hold and really become aggressive.

Any ideas?


A doctor friend and his wife and I were discussing this one day and found that the three of us felt there was a connection with IBS and migraine. Now I’ve read that the possibility of a relationship between the two syndromes it is being studied.

IBS-D and IBS-C (dia and constip) have been a problem for years for me. But adding IBS-C with OIC (opioid induced constipation) makes one feel like….I just can’t say it, but think aircraft warfare.

It can make a day be so uncomfortable one feels like amputating at the chest and also at the thigh. That would leave one with a “hole” lot of problems. But how do you tell someone that you have IBS-C-OIC so you just can’t make it over for dinner tonight?

Seriously, though, these kinds of problems do disrupt social and work life. I once had to quit a part-time job helping my brother’s company out for a few weeks because of my morning problems. On those bad days I would usually be sick (and feeling very unwell) all day.

IBS-C with OIC is now a part of my life and I hate it. There is an Rx for OIC, but not yet covered by Medicare. At $700 for a month’s supply, I’ll just have to suffer 🙁

Hints: If you have the same problem, you want to be taking lots of Magnesium Citrate and three tablespoons of honey each day, stool softeners and prayer.

Jean Price

For many, IBS seem like a catch-all phrase, and is often thrown in with the potential side effects of opioids as the first things doctors jump at when patients also have life limiting pain and are treated with opioids. I don’t think they have bowel issues and how important they can be figured out yet. But I do think probiotics and seeing what may make you worse can help. For some people, a sensitivity to gluten rather than an actual gluten intolerant disease, can be an aggravating issue, as can other food allergies. I believe the bigger problem to solve here is understanding the way we are made in general…since the bowel is where about at least 80-90% of our immune system resides and functions. So this begs the question of which comes first, an immune issue or an irritable bowel. And it also may be a factor in fibromyalgia impacting the immune system or being classified as a true autoimmune disease with varying systems involvement. Lots of life issue are also at play. For instance, those who live with pain often have less than consistent eating habits, since pain can decrease appetite and the ability to sit for meals can be reduced. So many factors are at play in our bodies, sorting them out seems to be the hardest task to find answers. And not jumping to a diagnosis like IBS which is mostly diagnosed by testing what it ISN’T rather than what it is for certain! My husband had an onset of gas and pain…seemingly IBS….which ended up being colon cancer…so definitive diagnosis can be extremely important here, as with all body upsets. I think we must not settle for answers of IBS until we are thoroughly checked out for other bowel or immune problems. This is merely good medical practice, yet seems to be missing at times now…and especially true for those with pain when our doctors may be less focused on physical symptoms and findings and looking for answers than they are in curtailing pain medication.

There was a huge increase in IBS, according to Dr Amy Myers of Austin, when a Korean company made a food additive by boiling wheat gluten with soda lye, The additive was viscous and transparent, like guar-bean gum, but cheap to make, Apparently, millions of people, myself included, who intentionally ate wheat gluten as a nutritious source of Vitamin E, are at elevated risk of IBS, because the food additive made from boiling gluten in lye, can upset the bacterial growth in our bowels by so much, that we develop an immune reaction in response to the inflammation. The immune system discovers all of this lye-boiled gluten, and begins making antibodies to it, as if it were an invading pathogen.

Once we have the antibodies, eating normal wheat products like bread and crackers, that were safely eaten for thousands of years, suddenly become unsafe for us. Our antibodies encounter fragments of wheat protein, histamine is created, and our bowels and liver become inflammed, just as if our bodies were genuinely under attack by a dangerous virus.

Dr Myers’ story gives a strong argument, about why consumers should be fully-informed about how their food is processed.

I love the idea of the probiotics for IBS! I was recently at a conference where they explained how the gut fauna and its health can have an expansive array of effects on our systems.

The timing of it also reminded me of an article from the postural alignment therapy group I belong to posted. The article shows how body position at work and while eating can have a significant effect on the digestion process as well as corrective DIY exercises to help provide additional relief. I hope this helps provide a complimentary approach to aiding those with IBS.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome was certainly one of the many symptoms that I experienced at the time I was suffering with painful, chronic, debilitating fibromyalgia. Finally I found the beautiful wellness work of Joy of Healing which helped me to discover and resolve the numerous unresolved issues in my life that, no matter how hard I tried to ignore them, kept resurfacing and making me so very ill. They also helped me to modify my foods, not a diet but healthy eating. Eliminating as much sugar, wheat, dairy and as many processed foods as possible certainly helped, as did a gentle exercise program geared to meet my body’s specific needs—walking and water aerobics, a gentle yoga… And yes probiotics as well. So grateful to be in remission, pain and prescription free!