One of the worst things about living with fibromyalgia is the way it seems to lead to so many other conditions. People with fibromyalgia are more likely to experience everything from heartburn to restless leg syndrome. And one of the conditions that people with fibromyalgia frequently end up experiencing is trouble with the digestive tract, like when they develop inflammatory bowel disease.
But not only does fibromyalgia make you more likely to suffer from the condition, but it can make the pain much worse. So what is inflammatory bowel disease? How is it related to fibromyalgia? And what can you do to treat it?
What Is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) covers a number a number of different conditions that lead to inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract. That includes things like ulcerative colitis, where sores or ulcers develop inside the intestine, and Chron’s disease, where the digestive tract swells and grows inflamed. Both conditions lead to symptoms like weight loss, diarrhea, bloody stool, and severe stomach pain.
Over time, the chronic inflammation of the bowels can damage the lining of the digestive tract. And though the condition isn’t fatal in most cases, it can eventually lead to serious health problems.
We don’t know what causes IBD, but stress and diet both seem to play a role. And as with most conditions, genetics is probably a big factor as well. People with a family history of bowel conditions are more likely to develop them themselves. Finally, smoking is a serious health risk, especially when it comes to Chron’s disease.
And interestingly, having fibromyalgia seems to make you more likely to develop the condition as well.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease And Fibromyalgia
Studies have shown that people with inflammatory bowel disease, especially ulcerative colitis, are also more likely to have fibromyalgia. In fact, around 30% of people with UC also have fibromyalgia, which is high enough to suggest a link between the two conditions.
It’s hard to say what that link may be, especially when we don’t fully understand what causes either condition. But if UC is an autoimmune disease, as many people suggest, then it would make sense that it would frequently affect people with fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia sufferers are generally more likely to develop autoimmune diseases than the rest of the population. And some people have even speculated that fibromyalgia itself may be an autoimmune condition. However, the majority of researchers agree that this is probably not the case.
The main reason for the link might actually be stress. People with fibromyalgia live very stressful lives as they struggle to cope with their chronic pain. And we know that stress makes you more likely to develop autoimmune diseases.
Whatever the reason, having fibromyalgia can also make the pain of inflammatory bowel disease much worse. That’s probably because the frequent pain of fibromyalgia makes your nerves more sensitive to all kinds of pain. As a result, people who have IBD with fibromyalgia feel the stomach pain of the condition more severely than other people. And that can make the condition much harder to live with.
Luckily, there are a few things you can do to treat it.
How Can You Treat It?
Obviously, the first step in treatment is getting a diagnosis. There are a few different methods doctors use to diagnose IBD. The first is a blood test that will check to see if your cells are delivering enough oxygen. If they aren’t delivering enough blood, a condition called anemia, then it’s a good sign that something is wrong. The doctor will then probably order a colonoscopy, where they insert a long, flexible tube with a camera into the bowels to check for signs of inflammation.
Once you’ve been diagnosed with the condition, the doctor can prescribe medication to treat it. The most common medication is basic non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. These include things like aspirin and ibuprofen and work by blocking the production of enzymes that contribute to inflammation.
In addition, doctors might prescribe immuno-suppressant drugs that reduce the activity of the immune system. These immune cells contribute to inflammation, so by suppressing them, doctors can reduce the inflammation in the bowels.
Other treatments are focused on the symptoms, like anti-diarrheal medications and pain relievers. Finally, the chronic bleeding that sometimes comes with IBD can lead to iron deficiency in the blood. So, many doctors recommend iron supplements as well to prevent anemia.
If you’re suffering from intense abdominal pains or any of these symptoms, see a doctor immediately. They can help figure out what’s wrong and recommend a treatment plan.
So, do you have bowel issues with fibromyalgia? What do you think the link is? What do you do to manage them?