On the whole, the gut symptoms that large numbers of people with fibromyalgia and ME/CFS experience are overlooked and under-investigated. They tend to be accepted by healthcare professionals as part of the spectrum of illness, while patients are left to cope with them as best they can. But might the link between gut problems and other symptoms, such as pain and fatigue, be more intimate than we think? A group at Unger-Vetlesen’s Institute, Norway have approached this possibility from a novel angle – by examining patients with intestinal problems for the presence of other, more general symptoms.

The 84 patients examined all had a main diagnosis of “gastrointestinal symptoms self-attributed to food hypersensitivity”; as the article says, patients like these “often become shuttlecocks between different medical specialists without much help being offered… a psychological explanation model often becomes a diagnostic rescue basket” – a sentence which will ring bells with many people with ME/CFS. Of these patients, all but one were diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and 58% had severe symptoms of IBS which could not be explained by either immune-mediated food allergy or other organic causes. However, most of these patients with intestinal problems also suffered from severe systemic symptoms, and 71% had the complete triad of IBS, musculoskeletal pain and chronic fatigue often seen in ME/ CFS or fibromyalgia.

Is it possible, as the authors speculate, that an underlying intestinal dysfunction might be at the root of these two illnesses, at least in some people? It’s certainly feasible, and something that needs exploring.

Reference: Functional bowel symptoms, fibromyalgia and fatigue: a food-induced triad? Berstad A, et al. Scand J Gastroenterol 2012 Sep; 47(8-9): 914-9.