Fibromyalgia and Digestion
As if muscle pain and tissue tenderness weren’t enough, many fibromyalgia patients must also put up with a variety of digestive problems on a daily basis. The pain and discomfort can get so bad you don’t know where to begin to find relief, and you may simply give up on a comfortable lifestyle.
If this sounds familiar, know you’re not alone: up to 70 percent of fibro sufferers also suffer from irritable bowel syndrome symptoms, including gas and bloating, constipation and diarrhea.
Luckily, there are several steps you can take to get some relief, beginning with a better understanding of the connections and communication happening within your body.
How Fibromyalgia Can Trigger Digestive Distress
Although specific causes of digestion problems can be difficult to track down, there are a few strong theories to explain the undeniable connection between fibro symptoms and GI distress.
Fibromyalgia and IBS
It’s no coincidence that fibro pain and intestinal pain go hand in hand. Recent studies have used brain scans to match physiological responses in IBS patients and fibromyalgia patients.
Not only do both groups of patients show greater neurological responses to pain, but IBS and fibro patients also seem to experience a heightened awareness of pain. Since they show such similar brain activity in regard to pain stimulus, experts suspect that the two conditions share underlying causes.
The Nervous System Response
Another explanation for the range of GI discomforts affecting fibro patients involves the autonomic nervous system, which regulates the function of the internal organs. This general nervous system is composed of two subsystems: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems, which rarely work simultaneously.
In fibromyalgia, the sympathetic nervous system (responsible for an increase in blood pressure, heart rate and adrenaline) is almost constantly engaged, leaving the parasympathetic system (responsible for relaxation and digestion) sluggish or inactive.
Many people with fibromyalgia complain that certain foods irritate their stomach or exacerbate their fibro symptoms in other parts of their body. Any food could be a trigger, and while diary and gluten are common culprits, many people have a unique set of food intolerances that can be difficult to identify without lots of time and careful attention.
Fibromyalgia and Digestion: Common Ailments
The gastrointestinal system is made up of several parts: the esophagus, stomach, small intestine and bowel. When digestion slows down, or an intolerance disrupts the natural process, a chain of events can push pain and discomfort through your entire GI tract.
Fibro patients often complain of frustrating digestive troubles, like:
- Acid reflux. When gastric juices are not used in the stomach, they tend to travel back up through the esophagus, resulting in heartburn or a painful sensation in the chest.
- Cramping and constipation. When the process of peristalsis (the smooth muscle contraction that moves food through the tubes of the GI tract) slows down, your irritated intestines can begin to cramp and prevent the movement of waste through the bowel.
- Diarrhea. When the digestive process slows or halts, undigested food can move from the stomach and into the intestine, where it can irritate the lining of the colon and produce IBS symptoms.
- Gas. The longer food stays in your stomach and intestines, the longer your natural GI bacteria has to break down the compounds, and the more methane gas is produced from bacteria metabolism.
IBS is a distinct condition caused by abnormalities in the nerves that supply the digestive tract, and physicians often use the ROME criteria to diagnosis the disorder. If your doctor isn’t convinced that your symptoms fit in with IBS, don’t throw in the towel just yet; there are several ways to address your digestive problems, regardless of whether you have overlapping conditions or fibro-triggered GI pain.