Could IBS Actually Be Endometriosis?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and endometriosis can have very similar symptoms. In fact, people with endometriosis are often diagnosed with IBS before endometriosis is discovered.1

Symptoms such as bloating, constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain or discomfort can occur in both endometriosis and IBS. However, the most common feature of endometriosis is pain; which can occur either during menstruation, or pain can be persistent.

Endometriosis affects approximately 10 percent of women at reproductive age.2 Studies have shown that women with endometriosis are three times more likely to have IBS.1 So, there is an association between the two conditions; however, researchers are yet to fully understand why.

What is endometriosis?

Endometriosis is an inflammatory condition where cells that are similar to those that line the uterus grow in other places. The condition is fuelled by the hormone estrogen.

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Endometriosis cells form lesions that bleed causing inflammation and scarring. This can cause nearby organs and tissues to stick together and form adhesions. As a result of this, the most common symptom is pelvic pain, but as mentioned, the symptoms can be very similar to IBS.

The cause of endometriosis is not fully understood, but genetics, environmental toxins, immune dysfunction, and gut health are all believed to be contributing factors.

Because the cause isn’t known, there is currently no cure for endometriosis.

The link between endometriosis and IBS

It’s not fully understood why IBS symptoms are so common in people with endometriosis, but there are a few theories:

The affected organs (most commonly the reproductive organs) are very close to the bowel, therefore the inflammation from endometriosis lesions could contribute to symptoms that are similar to IBS.

Research has shown that an imbalanced gut microbiome (known as dysbiosis) is linked to both endometriosis and IBS.3 The gut microbiome is the ecosystem of bacteria and other organisms that live in the gastrointestinal system.

Medications may also be a contributing factor.1

Endometriosis lesions can grow on the bowel, causing IBS symptoms.

Small intestine bacterial overgrowth (or SIBO) can be a cause of IBS. There’s a greater chance of people with endometriosis developing SIBO due to the adhesions or scar tissue, which can interfere with the normal digestive processes. Endometriosis is also linked to dysbiosis, which is an imbalanced microbiome.3

Psychological stress is another factor to consider, which is common in both IBS and endometriosis and can impair digestion.

What are some common symptoms of endometriosis?

Not everyone is the same, therefore symptoms may differ from person to person, but here are some common symptoms of endometriosis:

  • Painful periods
  • Pelvic pain during ovulation
  • Chronic or persistent pelvic pain
  • Heavy periods
  • Infertility
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal sensitivity
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Mental health issues such as anxiety and/or depression

What should you do if you suspect you have endometriosis?

If you are female, at a reproductive age and experiencing IBS symptoms, consider asking your doctor to investigate the possibility of endometriosis. As you have read in this article, endometriosis can be easily misdiagnosed, so it’s best to see a health professional who has a good understanding of the condition.

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