March is Endometriosis awareness month. Practitioners, and patients alike, are largely unaware of the link between Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and endometriosis (endo). Today I’ll shed some light on this important topic and discuss why these conditions are often interrelated for some women.
Are these symptoms of IBS or endo? It turns out the two are related.
Interestingly, over 90% of women diagnosed with endo experiene the very same digestive symptoms as IBS sufferers. This makes it hard to tell the difference between the two or even get a proper diagnosis.
Here, I’ll review more about how IBS and endo can be interrelated. The good news is it’s not all in your head– women are at greatest risk for developing IBS, with endometriosis as a contributing risk factor.
Before we start, let’s clear up a some definitions before we get into the details…
I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you’re already (unfortunately) familiar with IBS yourself or know someone who has it.
For those of you who aren’t already familiar, IBS is characterized as having abdominal pain or discomfort + diarrhea or constipation (or a mix).
The official criteria for a diagnosis of IBS require that a person experience these symptoms for 3 days (or more) over the course of the last 3 months.
“IBS” is generally a generic diagnosis doctors give to you when they don’t know how to classify your digestive disorder, which is why a factor like endometriosis could make the diagnosis inaccurate or not reveal the full picture of what’s going on.
Endo is a chronic inflammatory disorder impacting 190 million women worldwide.
With endometriosis, tissue similar to the tissue that forms the lining of your uterus grows outside of your uterine cavity. The lining of your uterus is called the endometrium which is where the name comes from.
Immune cells called macrophages are implicated in promoting endometriosis, causing symptoms like painful periods, painful intercourse, and painful bowel movements.
When endometriosis spreads to the bowel, the cells swell and bleed as they would during a menstrual cycle causing IBS-like symptoms of bloating, pain, and altered bowel habits.
Drivers of inflammation including diet, an imbalanced microbiome, and micronutrient deficiencies can exacerbate endometriosis flares which are the very same factors that can exacerbate IBS flares as well.
In addition to GI upset, endometriosis shares several other features with IBS, such as low-grade inflammation and visceral hypersensitivity (a lowered threshold for pain in the abdominal region).
Most women with IBS are under or mis-diagnosed while endometriosis is often not at all considered as a diagnosis for women presenting with abdominal complaints.
The lack of coordination between gastrointestinal doctors and gynecologists can delay diagnosis of endometriosis up to 11 years.
In women diagnosed with IBS, studies showed a threefold risk of having an endometriosis.
Even though a cause-and-effect relationship exists between IBS and endo, endo is rarely diagnosed in women who have IBS.
Since both endometriosis and IBS are inflammatory + immune-regulated disorders, digestive issues could be a response to either diagnosis.
There are many treatments to ease IBS symptoms experienced by women living with endometriosis. Most of what I focus on in my practice is dietary + lifestyle based.
There’s great evidence that an anti-inflammatory diet can help with both conditions, which is why I run MRT food sensitivity testing on all of my clients.
When we remove foods and chemicals that are causing inflammatory reactions in the body, we can see a significant reduction in GI symptoms almost immediately.
Food sensitivities can occur with ANY food or chemical. This means even healthy foods you eat such as spinach, salmon, or turmeric could be causing an unhealthy immune reaction in your body.
That’s why it’s so important to run a a highly accurate food sensitivity test instead of playing the guessing game as to what your food triggers are.
We’ll also want to look at what imbalances in the gut could be triggering additional inflammation. Could a pathogen or parasite be causing leaky gut, leading to all of those food sensitivities you’ve developed?
Getting a comprehensive stool test can help guide the best strategies to address additional underlying imbalances going on inside the gut.
Micronutrient imbalances are another factor that can lead to unwanted inflammatory responses in the body. Is your ratio of anti-inflammatory to inflammatory fats favorable? Are you lacking anti-inflammatory nutrients?
All of these factors I’ve just mentioned often get over looked by most practitioners, although they are a simple fix.
Designing a protocol with the right diet + nutrients that’s tailored to your lifestyle is essential for symptom improvement.
Do you struggle with abdominal pain and digestive issues? Whether the underlying cause of your gut woes is related to IBS, endometriosis, or both, you’re not alone and I’m here to help.
With my Digestive Reset Program we can get you on the fastest path to healing in no time, whether your digestive issues are related to IBS or endometriosis.
You’ll know exactly which step to take in what order and you’ll never feel confused about what it is you should be doing to get the best results.
To get started, schedule your free call with me now. I look forward to connecting with you!
Sarah Neumann Haske, MS, RDN is a Digestive Health Dietitian and owner of Neumann Nutrition & Wellness, LLC. Her practice helps women heal their gut using a root-cause approach to their health. As a result of her program, her clients are able to come off medications, feel more energized, and live a radiant care-free life. If you’re interested in finding direction and accountability while discovering freedom from your digestive issues, then schedule your free call with Sarah now.