Living with IBS: My story and a few other bits and bobs

Ah the talk of bowel movement. Being a dietitian with a passion for gastroenterology, conversations behind closed doors don’t usually entail talk of green smoothies, your 5 a day and how to rid your thighs of cellulite. We try to figure out what causes the uncontrollable flatulence, how to avoid a mad hunt for bathrooms and ways to prevent your bowels from escaping your body in public. If you’re not into poop talk, then I bid you farewell! Here’s my bowel story and my struggles with IBS…Slide1

This 3 letter acronym stands for irritable bowel syndrome and for those who are still not familiar with the term, it is a disturbance in the functioning of the digestive tract (i.e. intestines) causing a variety of symptoms. Bloating, gas, irregular bowel movements, abdominal pain and urgency to use the loo are some common complaints many sufferers describe. Some people with IBS complain of constipation, others have diarrhoea  and some experience both, such as yours truly.

To cut a story spanning over a year short, I started experiencing symptoms on and off after suffering from a horrible stomach infection. Also, that coincided with my move from Australia to Dubai. So, change of environment? Food? Weather? Who knows. Following a course (and mix) of antibiotics, my “stomach of steel” became the “weakest link”. My symptoms could only be described as an abdominal roller-coaster; stomach pain then diarrhoea for a few days followed by no intestinal movement whatsoever. Everything I ate seemed to go straight through me or create the perfect pregnancy illusion, where feeling bloated was simply understated. After endless trips to the bathroom (and moments where I’ve literally lost control of my bowels), the investigations began. Blood work, check! Endoscopy, check! Poop samples (many, in all forms), check! The tests ruled out coeliac disease, inflammatory bowel disease and other not so great diagnoses, and eventually, it all came down to IBS (and lactose intolerance with a lovely dash of reflux). 

Being a dietitian, you would think “Um, hold on, check for intolerances? Sensitivities? Try an elimination diet? C’mon!” However, due to my never ending fatigue and endless trips to the porcelain throne, I thought something was seriously wrong that went far beyond that. Now 4 years post IBS diagnosis, embarking on a low FODMAP diet, adding probiotics to the mix and embracing ways to manage stress, things have never been better. I won’t dig deeper into the low FODMAP diet as I have discussed this a few times on the blog, but you can always learn more here

The reason for sharing a little snippet of my IBS story is to raise awareness that poop talk is not taboo and that digestive problems no matter how mild or severe, need to be diagnosed properly. I have come across many who have self-diagnosed or consulted Dr. Google M.D. to get answers, but the go-to specialist here should be a gastroenterologist. Now, for those with a confirmed diagnosis of IBS, this book may be extremely helpful: “Conquering Irritable Bowel Syndrome” by Nicholas J. Talley. Here’s an excerpt from the book highlighting top myths of IBS, which I thought was a must share:

  1. I can diagnose IBS myself. The truth is, you might be able to but I don’t recommend it. See your doctor, as other conditions can sometimes cause very similar symptoms.imgres
  2. IBS symptoms are the same in everyone. No they are not. Some people have diarrhoea, others constipation, and some both. Bloating may be present (or not). But everyone has abdominal pain or discomfort if they have IBS.
  3. IBS makes everyone miserable. It can, but some people are not badly affected. A good quality of life doesn’t have to disappear if you have IBS. 
  4. IBS can lead to cancer or worse. No! IBS does not result in cancer, ever. You may even have a better chance of not getting colon cancer. 
  5. IBS is caused by stress. Stress is an important factor and can make you worse, but it doesn’t seem to be the cause. Infection, inflammation and bad bacteria seem more important!
  6. IBS is all in your head. Well, you need a brain to feel IBS symptoms, but it’s not all about your head – the gut is deranged, and that’s real. 

I do suggest reading this book to gain some insight on potential causes and ways to gain control and relief. However, consulting a dietitian if you do have IBS could be worth a try to get those bowels under control! If you do have any questions, please feel free to get in touch and  share your struggles and experiences. 

Wishing you all happy and healthy tummies! 

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