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Don’t Touch My Stomach! It’s Sensitive! – Part 2

My IBS pain can get extremely bad sometimes. So bad that a gas bubble can literally stop me in my tracks and force me to hold on to something for balance because the pain is that unbearable. So bad that sometimes I feel like the inside of my stomach is being sliced from top to bottom with a knife. So bad that any touch from another human being, for instance, like my wife giving me a hug, can intensify the sensation of pain for me. This is a side of IBS that is not only hard for any of us suffering from it to talk about, but also difficult for anyone not suffering from it to comprehend.

Allodynia and IBS

I wrote an article recently entitled “Don’t Touch My Stomach! It’s Sensitive!”, and in it I mention a term I learned about that describes part of my painful experience accurately, and it’s called visceral hypersensitivity. It is basically when a person feels the normal activity in the gut at a very exaggerated level, and a subset of patients with IBS experience it.1 Or, according to Melissa G. Hunt Ph.D., in her book Reclaiming Your Life From IBS, “People with IBS also seem to have more sensitive or reactive pain receptors in the gut than those without IBS.”2 So, for instance, when many of us with IBS have a gas bubble, it feels something like a piercing or stabbing pain in our gut, and thus we must quickly relieve ourselves of the agony by rushing to the restroom and letting one rip. Can you imagine having to do that at the wrong moment, such as in class or a work meeting with your boss? But for people who don’t suffer from visceral hypersensitivity, that gas bubble doesn’t feel painful or uncomfortable at all – it just feels like a little vibration in the stomach and they also might hear a slight rumble, and that’s it. However, this explanation only describes the pain I feel from within my gut due to visceral hypersensitivity.

There’s another aspect to my IBS pain that I never mentioned in the previous article simply because I didn’t know about it at the time. However, upon doing more research since then, I’ve learned that the proper term to use when someone feels pain from a touch is allodynia. According to Merriam-Webster, it is best described as “pain resulting from a stimulus (such as a light touch of the skin) which would not normally provoke pain”. It is also common that those who suffer from fibromyalgia also experience allodynia as part of their symptoms. So, it makes sense that I suffer from this because it explains why I sometimes get a feeling of pain and discomfort when my wife, or anyone else, touches me, especially on my stomach. Nonetheless, I should’ve led that article with this concept and information about allodynia simply because it describes that experience very accurately, which would clearly make more sense due to the title. Nonetheless, I am using this opportunity to emphasize the new topics I am learning regarding my condition, and I hope this information helps many of you with your understanding of irritable bowel syndrome as well.

A complete perspective

Many people without IBS tend to belittle the condition to just simple stomach pain and occasional diarrhea or constipation. Well, part of my mission when I write about my IBS experience is to share new things that I am learning, such as allodynia and visceral hypersensitivity. I want to provide a more complete perspective so those who don’t suffer from this condition can comprehend the seriousness and complexity of it and how it affects a person’s quality of life (such the gas bubble example). So yes, IBS does include a lot of stomach pain, but how that stomach pain actually works is the part that is not so simple and easy to deal with, let alone explain. I hope this article does us sufferers of IBS a little justice in describing our painful experiences that we try so hard to manage.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Zhou, Q., Verne, G. N. “New insights into visceral hypersensitivity —clinical implications in IBS” Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2011 Jun; 8(6): 349–355.
  2. Hunt, Melissa G. Reclaim Your Life From IBS New York: Sterling, 2016. Print