Why different conditions are linked with IBS

There is a growing body of research revealing that people with IBS tend to have more than one chronic health condition or co-morbidities. For example, we now know that people with IBS tend to have fibromyalgia or suffer from depression.

Unfortunately, co-morbidities with IBS are common, which suggest these diseases are linked somehow. One school of thought is the connection between brain and gut. Both body and mind react to psychological stress and produce a cluster of disorders to which IBS is one of them.

Another explanation is that IBS is not caused by a single entity but as part of a closely related group of etiological factors. The symptoms for some are primarily physical (ie, pain or reflux), while for others, it leads to mental health issues. The more conditions an individual has, the more severe the IBS is likely to be.

In reviewing several clinical articles, the common co-morbid conditions with IBS are:

  • Fibromyalgia. Between 30-70% of people will also have IBS.

  • Diabetes. As much as 75% also complain of IBS symptoms.

  • Chronic fatigue syndrome. About 14% of these individuals also suffer from IBS.

  • Mental health conditions. People with anxiety, depression, or schizophrenia are 5-6 times at higher risk of also having IBS.

  • Gastrointestinal esophageal disease (GERD). As much as 36% have IBS.

  • Chronic pelvic pain. Those who reported IBS can range from 15-40%.

Now it appears there’s another new physical symptom linked for people with IBS. According to a study published in Frontier of Endocrinology, women with polycystic ovaries syndrome (PCOS) are also more likely to suffer from IBS-M.

PCOS is a common endocrine disorder in young women that leads to irregular menstrual periods. They also may produce higher levels of a male hormone (androgen) that causes severe acne and excess facial and body hair. The same study showed that the presence of IBS in PCOS in women is associated with sleep and mental health disorders. Women with PCOS also have a higher risk of obesity, diabetes, infertility, high blood pressure, and other cardiovascular diseases.

It’s important to emphasize that these various disorders are not manifestations with no cause, so any family member who says “it’s all in your head” is wrong.

There’s no consensus yet on whether one condition causes the development of other diseases. But it seems to point in that direction. Until we know more from research, it’s essential that people with IBS focus on controlling or managing one to two health issues at a time, which may also help their digestive track.