Coping with Irritable Bowel Syndrome: My Story
Irritable Bowel Syndrome Can Be A Drag
Irritable Bowel Syndrome is commonly called by it's initials, IBS. It is a digestive disorder. It affects about one in six Americans. It can hit you at any age. It can make your life miserable.
Those suffering from it can have symptoms like diarrhea, nausea, and cramps. Symptoms can vary between two people. Those symptoms can mimic those of many diseases.
As many people might not know much about this problem, I thought I'd tell you about my experiences trying to live with it. It is a frustrating disease that can make leading a normal life a challenge.
I'll share some of the ways I've learned to cope with it. Though it affects me to some degree all the time, I've learned some skills that get me through the day.
I hope to shed a little light on this chronic disease that can be embarrassing to talk about and is often misunderstood.
[Photo courtesy of Stockarch at morguefile.com. Source: http://mrg.bz/YPH3bc
What is it?
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
More commonly called IBS
Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a disorder of the digestive tract. It can be confounding because one person may have constipation, one diarrhea, and a third may shift back and forth between the two.
There are a couple of causes: One is infection. This is called post infectious IBS. The other cause is stress. According to the NIH, the intestines are connected to the brain and nerve impulses are sent back and forth between to the two. This probably explains why episodes worsen during a stressful period.
A variety of tests can be done to diagnose this problem. These tests are done more to eliminate other causes than to confirm a diagnosis. I had a whole slew of tests done, all negative, all ruling out other causes of my discomfort. It was my symptoms that lead my doctor to a diagnosis.
People who have this syndrome can lead isolated lives. Those who are mildly affected can get by with infrequent incidences. Others are debilitated by the constant digestive problems and the feelings of exhausting that accompany so much distress. It can lead to the narrowing of ones existence to where you can't go anywhere for fear that a bathroom might not be easily accessible.
Source for the article mentioned in the first paragraph can be found at this URL: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001292
Digestive issues can be frustrating and confusing. They impact your life in many ways on a daily basis. This disease is particularly irritating because there doesn't seem much rhyme or reason to it. Test can be inconclusive. Often doctors are going on a hunch by eliminating all other causes.
A better understanding of your condition will help you get through the day. t's important to know what's going on in your body. This guide will help you understand this uncomfortable condition
It's Not All in Your Stomach
There can be other non-digestive related symptoms association with this disease:
- Feeling out of it
- Lack of energy
About One in Six Americans Has It
Are you one of them?
If you are experiencing these symptoms
First off, if you are experiencing any of these symptoms for more than a couple of days, see a doctor. It might not be "something you ate". You could have something going wrong in your digestive tract.
Let's look at the symptoms. Irritable bowel syndrome is considered if these symptoms persist for more than 6 months. Some of them are:
- Diarrhea and constipation interchangeably
- Abdominal pain and spasm. Pain may be relieved after a bowel movement.
- You have an urgency to go that can come on quite suddenly and usually follow soon after eating.
For women, these symptoms may be more prevalent during menstruation. Symptoms can come after eating something that upsets your stomach, from worrying, during periods of stress, and so forth.
You can see why it is so difficult to diagnosis. These symptoms could mean a variety of diseases, allergic reactions, or food related issues.
For more in depth descriptions of these symptoms, please check out this URL on the WebMD website: www.webmd.com/ibs/guide/irritable-bowel-syndrome-symptoms-types.
Which test might your doctor order?
There are several tests that doctors can request when diagnosing irritable bowel syndrome. In my case, I had blood tests, upper GI, lower GI, and an ultrasound on my gall bladder. These tests were used to rule out problems like gallstones, ulcers, colitis, and so forth.
There are many more tests that might be ordered. The Irritable Bowel Syndrome Self Help and Support Group has a comprehensive list of the test with descriptions of each. You can find it at this URL: www.ibsgroup.org/tests
Most likely you will not be expected to go through all of these tests. Given the symptoms you are having, certain tests will be requested. Once other diseases are eliminated as the cause, a diagnosis will be made.
Is it IBS or IBD?
IBS stands for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. IBD stands for Inflammatory Bowel Disease. While these two diseases sound similar and have some similar symptoms they are very different.
How can you tell them apart? Though they have similar symptoms, one clear sign that you may have IBD is rectal bleeding. If you see bleeding, see a doctor...NOW.
This article discusses the difference between IBS and IBD. It includes a chart with the symptoms associated with each condition. This may give you a better idea of what you are suffering from. Ultimately, you need to see a doctor to get a proper diagnosis.
Doctors Don't Know Everything
But neither does the Internet
I learned something very important about health care. Doctors don't know everything. Most GPs get very little nutritional training, for instance. I remember when I first started to get results from my diet I mentioned to my doctor that I had added fiber. He seemed surprise then commented that it probably would help. Thanks for letting me go 10 years without telling me, Doc!
I'm not saying that you should shun doctors. To the contrary, doctors have an important place in the treatment. But, you can't depend on your doctors to know everything or to think of every angle that might affect your outcome.
It is very important for any patient to be proactive. Reading up on your disease and the factors that may contribute is a good practice. Your doctor can be a partner in your treatment. But you must play your part too!
Warning! Although researching your disease is important, don't believe everything you read on the internet. Many websites will scare you with dire outcomes. Many people will entice you with miracle cures. There is no easy way out unfortunately.
Diagnosed when I was 18
It all started in my teens
Yep, I've got it, too
As you will see, IBS and I are old friends. That's me in the photograph at about the age of 12. I started having stomach upset around that age. I always brushed it off as eating too much, eating the wrong thing, or worrying about a test.
My stomach problems continued throughout my teens. I'd be sick for a couple of days with diarrhea and cramps, then I'd get better. I never took is seriously.
A couple months after turning 18, I went to the doctor as the situation became intolerable. My doctor did the normal blood and urine tests, but he didn't really note anything unusual. He treated my symptoms with medications and sent me on my way.
I was back again a year later. This time, he ordered an Upper G.I. This test came back normal.
I did okay for awhile, but about two years later my symptoms were back in full force. I had another Upper G.I and a Lower G.I. (great fun, that one). Everything was fine as far as the tests were concerned. This is when I got my diagnosis.
The Roller Coaster Ride
I wanted off in a bad way
Throughout my twenties, I went through a pattern. I'd have many months where my stomach did okay with only minor upset. Then I'd go through a period where it seemed no matter what I ate it caused a problem.
At one point my doctor sent me for an ultrasound to see if I was having gall bladder problems. That test came out negative as did all the others.
By my mid twenties, I began to realize that stress was the main factor in my episodes. Diet also played a part. But, it seemed that whenever I was nervous, worried, or stressed, it went right to my gut. Sometimes my problems lasted only as long as the stressful event. Other times, I went for months before my digestion was anything near normal.
There was a point in my late twenties where I had had enough. The medication that my doctor gave me was now causing me to have the opposite problem (constipation). I was spending more time in the bathroom than any other room in the house. I could barely eat anything without a problem. I had lost weight which is a problem when you start out at 90 pounds.
By chance, I found Dr. John McDougall on a talk show and learned about his low-fat vegan approach. I bought his book and read it from cover to cover. I figured that a vegan diet couldn't be any worse that what I was eating at that point, so I gave it a go.
I'll Always Have It
Although I've made tremendous progress, I will never be cured unless science comes up with something really quick. What I have been able to do through diet and relaxation is manage it.
I still have bad days. I still have bad weeks. But now, I know my triggers. I know to be patient. I know that if I pile on more stress I will make matters worse. I know if I eat that small chunk of onion I'll pay for it and how!
I will always have it. I don't think there's anyway around that. Just like some people get headaches when they're flustered, I get stomach upset. But now I have some tools so that I can deal with it. I had so much trouble with the different prescription drugs that I'd rather do it through diet if I can. I sometimes need a little digestive aid of the liquid type to get me through the day. I sometimes have to avoid certain foods. But, overall, my life is a whole lot more livable than it was twenty years ago.
Living with this condition is frustating
t is an unpredictable disease. You can have months of clear sailing then hit several weeks where no matter what you do you can't seem to digest right. That's what is frustrating for me. Not matter how much I do to keep everything in order, my digestive tract still gets crazy at times.
All the changes I've made have made living easier, but it still affects my life. I have to be so careful of what I eat and drink. I have to be so careful when I eat and drink. Sometimes I feel like a lab rat.
I also know that the problems in my digestive tract can lead to other health issues. My GP felt their was a link between my IBS and thyroid problems. My rheumatologist believe that my IBS lead to the auto immune problems that caused my spondylitis. If I can, I'd rather not have any more health problems!
Even with my best intentions and efforts, my digestion has bad mornings, bad days, bad months. it can be frustrating to watch people eat pie, sloppy sandwiches, and other delicious treats...while you must chew on a safe piece of plain toast. Talk about feeling resentful! You might even beat yourself up for it, then rail at the universe for getting this stupid disease.
There is no easy way out. If there is a miracle cure, I haven't seen it. The best you can do is manage the symptoms and try to achieve overall health so the it doesn't lead to other problems.
The Sounds of Nature Soothe
I find there is nothing more peaceful then the sound of rain, ocean waves, and chirping birds. Bring those sounds into your home to help you relax.
If you need to relax or de-stress, nature sounds can be very soothing. There are many CDs specifically made with these mellow sounds. They might include the sound of rain, rain forest sounds, waves crashing into the shore, and so forth.
There are also devices that bring those sounds into your home with the push of a button. The are programmed to give you very specific sounds. By adjusting the volume, you can keep them slightly in the background where they are calming and not alarming.
Tips to help you
live with IBS
Veganism isn't for everyone
Although I chose a vegan diet to heal my messed up digestion, it may not be right for everyone. I don't believe there is a one size fits all solution to every health problem. What I do know is that this diet works for me.
If veganism sounds interesting, give it a try. If it doesn't work, look towards other changes.
The important thing is make your dietary decisions based on knowledge. Find a health plan you can work with. Work it into your routine slowly. The real change comes from commitment.
A Vegan Diet Saved My Sanity
Changing my eating ways
John McDougall approach wasn't a diet. It was a health plan. I am going to admit before following this plan I made terrible food choices. Standing at a vending machine and choosing Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and Potato Chips because one has protein and the other is a vegetable is not a good decision! But, that's how I ate.
By the time I changed my diet, I couldn't even eat that. I was eating rice, carrots, bread, and crackers. Sometimes all I could eat was a half sandwich. Following this plan meant introducing strange foods into my diet--foods I wasn't sure I could tolerate. It meant giving up some things. Meat wasn't a big deal for me, so I wasn't really too worried about that. But, there were many snack foods that I loved.
I started slowly working through the recipes in the book. I made my first visit to the health food store pouring over the shelves with grains, nuts, and beans that I had never heard of before.
This was no miracle cure. My digestion was pretty screwed up by this point. It was really a matter of trial and error. Just because something was labeled healthy didn't mean my digestive tract would tolerate it. I remember the night I woke up with cramps and in a sweat after eating Kamut cereal. But, as I kept at it, I found that I was adding many foods to my pantry and refrigerator that I could eat and that I enjoyed.
It took many months before I started to see improvement. But, when my digestive tract began to come around, it was a blessing. I was no longer addicted to Alka Seltzer and Maalox. I could go whole days and then whole weeks without a problem. It was such a relief to be able to eat a meal and not having to count the minutes before I cramped up.
Making Changs for the Better
Have you made lifestyle changes to deal with a chronic illness?
Should you avoid certain foods?
There aren't any miracle cures
I know that many books claim that specific foods are triggers and that there are miracle foods that will cure whatever you have. I believe that there are triggers, however, it's not the same foods for everyone.
What bothers me might not be a problem for you. What bothers me today may be okay if I only eat it every now and then. Something I had last week, may prove to be a problem this week. Some foods I have to avoid completely. There is no set list that applies to everyone.
What I suggest is doing an elimination diet. Until you figure out which foods are triggers, you'll keep spinning your wheels. What is an elimination diet? For a few days, you eat a very limited variety of foods. If you don't have any problems, you then slowly add foods back to your diet one by one. Many people use this method to test for allergies.
Once you know which foods give you problems, you can avoid them. Then you can start concentrating on the foods you can eat and enjoy.
From My Own Experiences
- Fiber is your best friend. I had so many problems until I learned the importance of fiber in a healthy diet. Fiber helps you create bulk. It also helps the intestines move a stool through more easily. Without enough fiber, constipation and diarrhea will be constant problems.
- Drinking anything with meals screws up my digestion. I read a short book on Irritable Bowel Syndrome that noted the relationship between drinking with meals and the symptoms that I suffer. I found that anytime I drank anything with food it caused my stomach to go into volcano mode. The trick that works for me is no liquids 15 minutes before eating. No liquids until an hour after I eat. I know when I've drunk something too soon or had too much to quickly. My stomach reacts almost immediately.
- Certain foods must be avoided at all costs. Through an elimination diet, I learned that onions, Kamut, cucumbers, leeks, scallions, peppers, tomatoes, and other foods messed up my stomach no matter how little I ate. By avoiding them, my stomach was much happier.
- I can eat some foods in moderation. I love spaghetti, but tomatoes can give me no end of trouble. I've found that tomato sauce affects me differently than whole tomatoes. I can eat spaghetti one day, but never as leftovers. Two days of tomato sauce is too much.
- Some foods digest better when cooked. I have found that I can eat certain vegetables if they are cooked, but not when they are raw. I love radishes. I avoided them for years because they killed my gut. For some reason, I ended up with a bunch. I steamed them and guess what? No problems!
- Learning relaxation techniques is crucial to coping with IBS. I bet you're like me. Anytime there's an event coming up or conflict in your life, you fret...you worry...you obsess. And, you feel everyone of those thoughts in your gut. I didn't know how to relax until I was in my early 30s. It wasn't a skill I had. I'm still not the best at it, but I keep trying. A little bit of deep breathing can go along way.
- Smaller portions many times a day are better than no food at all. When I first began the dietary approach, I found that I couldn't eat much. So, I started eating smaller portions several times a day. I found that I could eat a whole sandwich if I ate half and then the other half two hours later. It's all about management.
- I found a neat trick that is really quite simple. Walking aids digestion. It helps your digestive tract produce what it needs to break down food. It also helps you work through stress. I started by walking around my backyard every day and eventually made it a routine. I find when I don't take walks my digestion is much worse.
- You hear so much about probiotics these days. There are some important ones to digestion. Acidophilus has helped me immensely. I've tried other probiotics, but it seems acidophilus does the most good for my condition. Even on a bad day, adding extra acidophilus seems to aid in my recovery.
The McDougall Plan is One Option.
Before you delve into any new diet regiment, education yourself. Read books on the topic, research the plusses and the minuses.
This book offers solid medical evidence about how our eating affects the way our body functions. Well worth reading even for those who only want to make minor changes to their diet.
This is a well researched and informative guide to why you should move to a vegan diet and how to do it.
I hope you enjoyed the information on this page and hearing my story. Do you suffer from IBS or know someone who does? Do you have any coping tips to share?