Fibromyalgia and IBD: What's the Connection?

It's no surprise that when it comes to inflammatory bowel disease, we are at more risk of experiencing other chronic conditions. One of these is fibromyalgia, a long-term condition that can cause widespread pain all over your body. But what is this condition and how does it link to Crohn's, ulcerative colitis, and other gastrointestinal disorders?1

What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia, or "fibro" as it's sometimes also called, is a chronic condition where the individual is much more sensitive to pain. This can cause a burning pain across your entire body. It has a range of other symptoms, including thing like muscle stiffness, sleep issues, fatigue, confusion (or the "fibro fog"), and digestive issues like IBS.2

How is fibromyalgia linked to Crohn's and UC?

Research indicates that that fibro may be more common in IBD patients, particularly in females, those who have had the disease for longer, and those who have more active disease.3

It's not clear why these conditions occur together but we do know it is very common for those with fibromyalgia to have gut issues. For example, 70% have IBS, suggesting there is a gut connection.4

Having both fibromyalgia and IBD is painful

The main problem is that people with fibromyalgia have increased pain sensitivity, which can be felt all over the body. This is because of  the way the brain and spinal cord interprets pain signals. This can make you feel pain at the slightest touch, which may make the pain from your Crohn's or UC even more painful.

It also means it is hard to determine the cause of the pain and whether it is due to your IBD. Because people with IBD are used to experiencing pain, they may not realise it is actually due to fibromyalgia. There are many crossover symptoms between IBD and fibromyalgia. For example, both conditions present as fatigue, brain fog, muscle aches, and problems sleeping.

Is it fibro or Crohn's/colitis?

It can therefore be difficult to know which condition is causing these issues and may make it harder to understand if your IBD is flaring.

There isn't usually a crossover between the treatments of both conditions. Although one suggested treatment for fibromyalgia is exercise, which may not be possible if you're also experiencing a Crohn's or colitis flare-up.

What to do if you think you have fibromyalgia

It is important to go to your GP or doctor if you think you could have fibromyalgia. It may be harder to get a diagnosis at first as some symptoms may be explained away as part of IBD. With fibromyalgia, a key indiciator is the pain is much more widespread. Whereas with IBD, it may be restricted to the tummy area or certain joints.

Whilst there's no one test to confirm if you have fibro, your doctor will be able to run some tests and go through the criteria which acts as a diagnostic tool. This is something I am keeping an eye on as a patient living with chronic Crohn's pain.

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