Endometriosis and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are two conditions that have similar symptoms. It’s possible to have both disorders. Your doctor may misdiagnose one condition when it’s actually the other. Doctors also know that women with endometriosis are more likely to have IBS.
Keep reading for more information about each condition and how they’re related.
Endometriosis is a chronic, noncancerous condition where cells that resemble the uterus lining, called endometrial cells, grow outside the uterus. Examples of these areas include the fallopian tubes and ovaries.
Endometrium-like tissue can also grow in the bowel, which can contribute to IBS-like symptoms.
IBS causes abdominal symptoms. These include constipation, diarrhea, or both. However, the condition doesn’t damage a person’s bowel like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease can.
Women with endometriosis have IBS more often than women without endometriosis. Many women who have endometriosis in the bowel and other nearby structures often receive an IBS misdiagnosis.
Endometriosis and IBS share common symptoms. This overlap can present a challenge for doctors trying to diagnose the source of a patient’s pain and discomfort.
A common symptom of both conditions is visceral sensitivity. This means someone with either condition has a lower pain tolerance for abdominal or pelvic pain. Their nerve endings may be especially sensitive. This can lead to a heightened response to pain.
shared symptoms of endometriosis and ibs
Some of the additional shared symptoms between endometriosis and IBS include:
- abdominal cramping
- pain with bowel movements
Because of these shared symptoms, doctors may have difficulty diagnosing endometriosis or IBS.
Doctors don’t know what exactly causes endometriosis. They do know the condition has a genetic component, but little else about why some develop the condition and others don’t.
IBS is a similar mystery for doctors. They know that inflammation may lead to IBS. Some people also get IBS after a bacterial or viral infection, which can lead to chronic intestinal inflammation.
Doctors don’t have just one test that diagnoses either condition. When diagnosing IBS, doctors often try to rule out other medical conditions that cause similar symptoms. These include:
- gluten intolerance
- infectious illnesses
- inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
- lactose intolerance
A doctor may order blood tests to determine whether a person has inflammatory compounds that could point to a gluten or lactose intolerance. They may also ask for a stool sample to test the stool for blood or infectious organisms.
Sometimes a doctor may recommend an upper endoscopy or colonoscopy. These are testing methods that allow your doctor to view the lining of the esophagus, stomach, and colon to identify any irregularities.
Doctors may use a variety of approaches to diagnose endometriosis. Examples of these include:
- Pelvic exam. Your doctor may conduct a pelvic exam to feel for areas of scarring.
- Imaging tests. An MRI or ultrasound can help your doctor see if there are cysts or endometriosis-like thickening in the uterus or other areas.
- Medications. Your doctor may prescribe hormonal medications to reduce endometriosis symptoms. If your symptoms improve, the condition is likely endometriosis.
- Surgical laparoscopy. The only definitive way to confirm endometriosis is surgical laparoscopy. This involves removing a portion of potentially abnormal tissue and testing it in a lab for the presence of uterine tissue.
Your doctor will discuss these diagnostic methods with you. They’ll then use the results to make treatment recommendations.
Endometriosis treatments depend on where the abnormal cells are in your body.
If endometriosis affects the bowel, your doctor may first prescribe hormone treatments. These include birth control pills or an intrauterine device (IUD). The extra hormones may be able to regulate problems like cramping and bleeding.
If hormones don’t relieve symptoms, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove the areas where endometrium-like tissue grows. If you have fertility concerns, surgery may also help too.
To treat IBS, your doctor may prescribe medications depending on your symptoms. Examples include:
- Antidepressants. These include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as citalopram (Celexa), fluoxetine (Prozac), or sertraline (Zoloft) as well as tricyclic antidepressants, such as amitriptyline (Elavil).
- Antidiarrheals. These include loperamide, rifaximin, or eluxadoline (Viberzi).
- Medications to treat constipation. These include laxatives, lubiprostone (Amitiza), linaclotide (Linzess), or plecanatide (Trulance).
In addition to prescription medications, doctors may also recommend therapy if stress is a trigger for IBS flare-ups. A therapist can suggest approaches that can help a person better respond to stress.
At-home remedies for endometriosis are usually related to soothing pelvic or abdominal symptoms.
Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, can relieve pain. Applying heat or cold packs to the lower abdomen can help cramping symptoms.
Making some dietary changes can help treat IBS. Consider the following:
- Eat foods that contain fewer preservatives and artificial flavorings and colorings. This approach is part of a low-FODMAP diet.
- Incorporate more fiber into your diet.
- Refrain from eating foods that have gluten.
- Take probiotics to incorporate healthy bacteria into the gut.
Taking steps to reduce stress can also help some people with IBS. These can include regular physical activity and meditation.
When to see your doctor
See your doctor if you think you have symptoms of either or both conditions. Examples include:
- changes in bowel habits, such as increased constipation or diarrhea
- highly painful periods
- pelvic pain
- stomach cramping
While the symptoms of endometriosis and IBS are rarely medical emergencies, they can be incredibly painful and interfere with your everyday life. As a result, it’s important to talk to your doctor and get treatment sooner rather than later.
Although endometriosis and IBS don’t have a current cure, both conditions can be successfully managed.
In addition to the connection between endometriosis and IBS, doctors have linked endometriosis with a higher rate of other medical conditions. These include:
- allergic reactions
- autoimmune disorders, including multiple sclerosis and lupus
- cancers, such as breast or ovarian cancer
- chronic fatigue syndrome
Discuss these risks and conditions with your doctor if you have endometriosis.
If you have endometriosis and IBS, you’re not alone. The Endometriosis Foundation of America estimates 10 percent of women in the Unites States have endometriosis.
Seeking treatment for either or both conditions can help improve your quality of life.