One of the least-discussed but more life-limiting symptoms of fibromyalgia, at least for me, is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
For those who are lucky enough to be unfamiliar with this condition, here are a few of the particulars. IBS has three categories: The first is IBS-D, which produces diarrhea; the second is IBS-C, which produces constipation; and the third produces symptoms that vary from one to the other.
Additionally, a host of difficulties accompany IBS, including gas, bloating, abdominal pain, mucus in the stool, nausea, and fatigue.
Some people experience these symptoms infrequently. For others, like me, it’s so common that it’s pretty much a way of life. During a recent three-year period, my IBS-D became so severe that it caused me to lose 40 lbs. Of course, I sought treatment during that time, as I had so many other times in the past. Sadly, treatment is ineffective unless the cause is known. To this day, the cause of my particular symptoms remains a mystery.
Conventional healthcare providers commonly look first to infection as the cause. Initial treatment often consists of a course or two of antibiotics. Sadly for me, most antibiotics produce diarrhea for my sensitive system even during the best of times. This mode of treatment did not prove helpful for me in the least.
Life stresses are another common cause. Anxiety is known to result in digestive upsets of all kinds. Although I do suffer from anxiety, I’ve been under treatment for years, taking an anti-anxiety medication daily, and regularly meeting with a therapist. The issues I routinely encounter were no more severe during that period than at any other. So, stress was ruled out as the primary culprit, even though it’s a contributing factor in times of emotional upheaval.
Blood and allergy testing revealed only a lactose intolerance and a pineapple allergy, both of which I already was avoiding. A daily food diary helped me to learn what foods were particularly irritating to me. As a result, I no longer consume deep-fried foods, anything with artificial sweeteners (as in “sugar-free” products), or the artificial fats used in “fat-free” products.
Colonoscopy was a logical next step to rule out more serious causes of bowel irregularity such as Crohn’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease, or cancer. But with colon cancer prevalent in my family, I have already suffered through this unpleasant testing procedure every two years since 1993. Fortunately, a benign polyp was the worst thing ever found.
When conventional medicine had nothing more to offer me, I turned to alternative therapiessuch as acupuncture, hypnotherapy, and even hypnosis. My acupuncturist recommended a series of food allergy tests that registered positive for sensitivities to gluten, wheat, and soy. Even though those tests are commonly disregarded as inaccurate or inconsistent by conventional physicians, I was willing to try anything. In desperation, I gave up all those things. It’s been a challenge to live gluten-free for the past several years, and I’m not certain it’s made much difference in my IBS symptoms. I have, however, regained most of the weight I’d lost, and I have seen other positive digestive changes.
Sadly, IBS-D continues to rule my life. It’s responsible for all of my cancellations and missed opportunities. Along with worsening cognitive difficulties, it forced me to leave the workforce. The reality is that IBS decides when and if I’m able to leave the house. Because my symptoms are most bothersome in the morning, I schedule my life accordingly, making appointments for late in the day. Although there’s no guarantee, the odds are better then. Friends and family have learned that every commitment I make is tentative — dependent upon the severity of my symptoms.
So, I’m grateful for my good days when I participate in as many interesting activities as I can find. I also strive for interesting things to do at home. Writing this column is one of those things. See you next week!