Irritable bowel syndrome is a condition characterized by several digestive or gut-related symptoms occurring together, including pain in the abdomen, bloating, and changes in bowel habits. These can include diarrhea, constipation, or a combination of both. IBS is known as a functional disorder, in that the normal functioning of the gut is affected.1
With IBS, these symptoms occur without any underlying damage to the gut. Other digestive difficulties that manifest with similar symptoms, for example Crohn’s Disease or ulcerative colitis, feature notable inflammation of the intestines or other parts of the digestive tract.2,3
Studies show that IBS affects about 12 percent of the population of the United States. Women are twice as likely to develop the disease as men, and more people experience symptoms before age 50 than after age 50.1
IBS and other health conditions
IBS and Mental Health
There is a strong connection between IBS and certain mental conditions such as depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. In total, about 50 percent of IBS sufferers also experience symptoms of mental distress.4
Researchers believe that these connections suggest a disruption in communication between the gut and the brain. They also believe that these underlying conditions might play a role in causing IBS. One recent study found that IBS is associated with central nervous system activation and pre-inflammatory processes.5
IBS and Physical Health
People with IBS often have other health problems, as well, including fibromyalgia, chronic pain, or chronic fatigue syndrome.1 IBS and these conditions are known as functional somatic syndromes.
IBS and Diabetes
Data shows that more people with diabetes than without, self-report gastrointestinal problems, including ulcers, diverticulitis, and IBS. However, the way these data are collected can be prone to bias.
By contrast, reviews of clinical and epidemiological studies do not show consistent results suggesting that people with diabetes are at higher risk of developing gastrointestinal symptoms than the general population. This is, in part, because the syndromes are often hard to define, so study results can be inconclusive. The sole exception shows that people with diabetes can have higher rates of constipation than the general population.6
Additionally, one study showed that people with higher levels of peripheral neuropathy (a complication of diabetes often indicated by tingling in the fingers and toes) had higher levels of GI symptoms than people without neuropathy. Additionally, those with poor control over their blood glucose had higher levels of upper gastric symptoms7 such as acid reflux, excessive gas or belching, and nausea.
Managing IBS and diabetes with diet
Both diabetes and IBS are common conditions, so many people have to contend with both health issues at the same time. It can be challenging to manage your diet when you have both conditions, because the recommended diets can often contradict each other.
For example, experts suggest reducing the amount of dietary fiber in your diet for IBS when it flares-up as diarrhea. However eating fiber-rich foods, such as whole grains or fresh fruits and vegetables, is a good way to help stabilize blood sugar, which is critical when managing diabetes. Likewise, beans and other high-fiber carbohydrates can help control blood sugar in diabetes. But if you suffer from excessive gas and bloating with your IBS, then beans might not be the best choice.8
Because of these complications, it can often be helpful to consult with a nutritionist, who can help you make food choices. If it is difficult to manage your blood sugar and your IBS at the same time, both over-the-counter and prescription medications can also help alleviate your IBS symptoms. The exact medication you use will depend on your particular symptoms.9
Irritable Bowel Syndrome. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/irritable-bowel-syndrome/all-content Accessed March 31, 2018.
Crohn's Disease. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/crohns-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20353304. Accessed March 31, 2018.
What are Crohn's and Colitis? Crohn's and Colitis Foundation. http://www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/what-are-crohns-and-colitis/. Accessed March 31, 2018.
Constanze Hausteiner-Wiehle and Peter Henningsen. Irritable bowel syndrome: Relations with functional, mental, and somatoform disorders. World J Gastroenterol. 2014 May 28; 20(20): 6024-6030. Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4033442/ Accessed March 31, 2018.
Farup PG, Ueland T, Rudi K, et. al. Functional Bowel Disorders Are Associated with a Central Immune Activation. Gastroenterol Res Pract. 2017;2017:1642912. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29201045. Accessed March 31, 2018.
James Everhart. Digestive Diseases and Diabetes. Chapter 21 in Diabetes in America, 2nd Edition. National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders. National Institutes of Health. Bethesda, Md. 1995. Pages Available at: https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=Uv-ri4rpswUC&oi=fnd&pg=PA457&dq=related:BqLLbH6n10plIM:scholar.google.com/&ots=KlQVkFkkOI&sig=Q89AR3NVd25VLrr6ktcZ2gobFDQ#v=onepage&q&f=false Accessed March 31, 2018.
Peter Bytzer, Nicholas J Talley, Johann Hammer MD, et. al. GI symptoms in diabetes mellitus are associated with both poor glycemic control and diabetic complications. American Journal of Gastroenterology volume 97, pages 604-611 (2002). Available at https://www.nature.com/articles/ajg2002155. Accessed March 31, 2018.
Barbara Bolen. What to Eat When You Have Both IBS and Diabetes. Verywell Health. https://www.verywell.com/ibs-and-diabetes-1945195. Accessed March 31, 2018.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Diabetes.co.uk. https://www.diabetes.co.uk/conditions/irritable-bowel-syndrome-and-diabetes.html Accessed March 31, 2018.