Study Shows Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Interstitial Cystitis Also Worsen
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD
April 16, 2010 (Toronto) — Symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), fibromyalgia, and a painful bladder condition called interstitial cystitis (IC) seem to get worse in some women right before and during menstruation, researchers report.
All three are disorders of the autonomic nervous system. That’s the part of the brain, spinal cord, and nerves that controls functions such as blood pressure and bladder control; these functions are largely involuntary and below our level of consciousness.
“Since other autonomic disorders like migraine and fainting seem to have menstrual variations, we theorized that these conditions would have these variations as well,” says Thomas Chelimsky, MD, professor of neurology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
IBS is characterized by abdominal pain, constipation, bloating, and diarrhea, while fibromyalgia is characterized by pain throughout the body, along with tender points. IC patients have pain in the bladder. All three conditions affect women more than men. Stress and anxiety can exacerbate symptoms of all three, Chelimsky tells WebMD.
For the study, 79 women with IBS, 77 women with fibromyalgia, and 129 women with IC filled out a questionnaire asking about the severity of their symptoms throughout the month.
A total of 25% of the IBS patients, 18% of the fibromyalgia patients, and 9% of the IC patients reported worsening of symptoms during or before their period.
While not addressed by the study, Chelimsky believes fluctuations in hormone levels may explain the findings.
“Estrogen is a pain preventative,” Chelimsky says. Levels are at their lowest right before menstruation and are still low while a woman has her period.