What Are Other Health Conditions Linked To IBS?

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed December 2022 | Last updated: December 2022

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects the stomach and digestive tract. Stomach pain along with diarrhea and/or constipation are hallmark symptoms of IBS.1

IBS shares symptoms with many other health conditions. Some of these conditions affect the digestive system and others do not. These health problems can occur at the same time as IBS, making daily life even more challenging.2-13

Not everyone with IBS will have other health conditions to manage, but IBS does increase the risk for some. Continue reading to understand which other health conditions are connected to IBS. 2-13

Chronic pain disorders Chronic pain disorders are common among people with IBS. These disorders may share a common cause, such as: 2-4Enhanced pain perceptionChanges in brain responseChanges in immune and neuroendocrine functionSince the disorders may be caused by similar factors, some of the treatments are also similar. Treatments that overlap with IBS and chronic pain disorders include:2-4Mental health therapyPain medicinesAntidepressantsFibromyalgiaFibromyalgia is a disorder that causes chronic widespread pain. It is more common in women than men.2In addition to pain and tenderness all over the body, fibromyalgia can cause:2AnxietyFatigueHeadachesTrouble sleepingDigestive problemsA 2020 review found that nearly half of people with fibromyalgia also live with IBS – specifically, IBS with constipation (IBS-C) and IBS with mixed bowel habits (IBS-M). More research is needed to understand this close connection. Women are also more likely to have fibromyalgia in addition to their IBS.2Temporomandibular disorders (TMD)Temporomandibular disorders (TMDs) cause pain in the jaw and surrounding areas of the face and head. The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) acts like a hinge that lets you move your jaw for talking, chewing, and yawning.3Researchers have noticed a close connection between IBS and TMD. A 2019 study found that those with TMD are more than 6 times as likely to develop IBS than people without TMD. People with TMD are also more likely to have more severe IBS symptoms.3Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is an intense fatigue that does not get better with rest. Research shows a link between IBS and CFS, though more research is needed. Just like fibromyalgia, CFS affects women more than men.4 CFS and IBS are both associated with lower quality of life and an increased risk of anxiety and depression. They can interfere with work and can make maintaining a job difficult. This can lead to a higher chance of unemployment and poor overall health.4 Food intolerances A food intolerance means that the body cannot properly digest a particular food without irritation to the digestive system. For people with IBS, lactose and gluten are 2 foods that trigger symptoms.5-7Lactose intoleranceLactose intolerance occurs when your body cannot break down lactose found in dairy products such as milk, ice cream, yogurt, and soft cheeses. Lactase, an enzyme produced in the body, breaks down lactose. Lactase activity decreases as you age. In fact, about 70 percent of adults have decreased lactase activity.5People with lactose intolerance have a lactase deficiency in which lactose is not properly absorbed by the body. Instead, it passes through the digestive tract causing symptoms like:5Abdominal painBloatingFlatulenceDiarrheaResearchers are working to understand the link between lactose intolerance and IBS. There is a lot of overlap with people who have these conditions. Not everyone who has lactose intolerance has or will develop IBS, but lactose and dairy products are often trigger foods if you have IBS.5Treatment of lactose intolerance centers around cutting dairy products from your diet to try to reduce symptoms. An enzyme replacement can be used to help break down lactose when eating foods with dairy.5Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS)Gluten is another ingredient in foods that is a trigger for many people with IBS. A 2019 report found there is a significant overlap between people who have non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) and IBS.6,7NCGS is different from celiac disease. Celiac disease is a genetic condition in which eating gluten causes an immune reaction in the small intestine. For people with celiac disease, eating gluten causes painful symptoms that can last many hours or days.7Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Symptoms for NCGS are very similar to IBS:6,7Stomach pain Bloating and gasBrain fogDiarrheaA gluten-free diet is recommended for people who have IBS and gluten sensitivity. It has been shown to bring relief from symptoms.6,7EndometriosisAbout 5 to 10 percent of women of reproductive age have endometriosis. The prevalence of IBS is higher in women who have endometriosis.8It occurs when cells and tissue that are similar to the lining of the uterus are found outside the uterus. This can cause severe pain and symptoms that overlap with IBS, including:8Stomach pain CrampingChange in bowel movementsPainful periodsAcute diverticulitis (AD)IBS is a risk factor for developing acute diverticulitis (AD). In a 2020 study, AD was nearly 4 times higher in people with IBS than in people without IBS.9,10AD is a digestive condition in which small bulging pouches form in your lower GI tract that become inflamed. AD can be quite painful and if not treated early, could require surgery.9,10Signs and symptoms of AD include:9,10Stomach pain and tenderness, usually in the lower left sideNausea and vomitingFeverConstipationDiarrheaMood disordersAnxiety and depression are 2 mood disorders that are common in people with IBS. Researchers have long understood that IBS and the brain are closely linked.11,12According to a 2021 study, 31 percent of people with IBS live with anxiety and 37 percent of people with IBS live with depression. Anxiety and depression are common no matter what type of IBS a person has.11Mood disorders can trigger IBS symptoms, which can make anxiety and depression worse, resulting in a vicious cycle. A mental health professional such as a counselor or therapist can be helpful if you have IBS and struggle with anxiety or depression.11,12Sleep conditionsIBS can affect other areas of our health as well, including our sleep. A 2019 study found that the gut microbiome can impact sleep. In addition, IBS symptoms can disrupt sleep, leading to poor sleep quality.13

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