*Important: This is personal journey story piece. This information should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your physician. There may be variations in recommendations and treatments that your physician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
My relationship with my gut has been lifelong, taking me down different paths, and complex added layers of gastrointestinal issues. At the end my understanding of my IBS is stronger, and my relationship with my gut better leading to a higher quality of life.
My awareness of IBS came during my university years. At the end of a year, I found myself not being able to eat, with a distended abdomen, extremely constipated with weight loss. Feeling frightened and alone. One solution appeared to be not eating as it lessened the gastrointestinal discomfort. Naturally this lead to an investigation of my gastrointestinal system, both an endoscopy and colonoscopy. At the end of which I was informed that I had irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The prescribed solutions were, Metamucil® and domperidone to improve upper gastric motility. This was over 30 years ago. But even before this episode, I recall experiencing constipation. This was the beginning of my focus on my relationship with my gut.
Being diagnosed with IBS was only the beginning of the long journey with my gut. It seemed that sometimes I was fine and other times the constipation, bloating and abdominal pain, discomfort set in with a vengeance. In all honesty, I was not compliant with Metamucil®,. That early form of it was much less palatable than the current formulation. It turned into cement quickly in my glass of water. With great intrigue I observed this phenomenon. I was better at consuming coffee than water at that time, which lead to further complications of constipation. This of course snowballed into lack of appetite and poor eating – but it was a vicious cycle! I eventually improved my intake of fibre through eating high bran foods which helped.
While learning to manage my IBS, studying pharmacy, and living a life as a student, I contracted Girardiasis – a painful gastrointestinal infection for which antibiotics were prescribed. This of course had to occur during the December exams. Although that infection cleared, something new developed, pseudomembranous colitis which I brought home during Christmas break. Eventually the pseudomembranous colitis was resolved with antibiotics. However. I was left with some form of colitis, isolated in rectal area which lasted many years and resolved on its own.
A new path started to evolve, food intolerances. First there was lactose intolerance. Then several years later it was other foods. The usual pattern of feeling good, but then for some reason my abdomen became bloated, uncomfortable, and it looked like I was six months pregnant and needed a different wardrobe. At each turn, I headed back to the doctor’s office and further investigations were made. The most recent being about ten years ago, with food intolerances. Mainly gluten and dairy along with a few others.
Just to complete the picture, there were two infections of H. Pylori that added to the complexities of my gut issues over the past twenty years.
When my IBS was acting up, I was not able to sleep, eat well, resulting in poor energy and no desire to participate in life’s activities. Very much unlike ‘myself’ who normally was social and enjoyed a variety of activities. It seemed that my gut ruled my life. Eventually I developed a sixth sense for locating restrooms in buildings upon setting foot. My bowel habits changed from simply being constipated to alternating with diarrhea and urgency. There was a need to locating restrooms.
As a child I was not a good eater, very particular about what I ate and how much I ate. Eating was affected by stressful events. Never one big on junk food type of eating, I simply was not big on eating. It seemed that feeding my body was not a priority, nor drinking fluids. Over time and with successive gut diagnoses and issues I learned to eat, and healthier. I became more intuitive about my eating habits. For example, I switched to eating fruit for breakfast vs toast and noticed that I felt better. I reduced red meat in my diet significantly and started creating complex salads. Bran muffins became my fix for constipation.
With the revelation of food intolerances, including gluten, and dairy – a major challenge presented itself. How to eat, how to handle eating out, and eating at other people’s homes. It was not easy initially, the gluten free, and dairy free foods available were not palatable. I did switch out cow’s milk cheese for goat cheese but that has been limited. Since then, I have discovered nut-based cheeses such as Nuts For Cheese, am eating high fibre foods, with a variety of vegetables and enjoying my food choices!
Throughout my long course of dealing with IBS-C I had prescriptions for different medications. Mainly motility related medications to help my bowels move. Domperidone for the upper GI, for a limited time. Modulon®, or trimebutine seemed to be the most commonly taken medication as it works on the lower gastrointestinal system to help the bowels move. There was acid reducing medications, ranitidine, and esomeprazole to manage GERD symptoms. All related to constipation from of my IBS. Librax® also came into play a couple of times when I was in severe discomfort and pain.
Metamucil® has been part of the regime. The original formula not very palatable, very quick to solidify. Current forms are cleaner and nicer to drink, and come in capsule forms which are better to take while travelling.
For the colitis, 5-Aminosalicylic products managed it well along with steroid enemas. Fortunately, that problem resolved, and I am no longer in need of these medications.
My long and complex journey has taught me to listen to my gut, to pay attention to what makes it worse, and what makes it better. It has taught me to take care of myself. A lot of self-awareness on the benefits of healthy eating and simply eating, as well as hydration. Exercise has been a major tool in helping me with my gut issues. Particularly aerobic type of exercise and running.
Now I am in a much better place! I manage my gut holistically, with foods that support my gut and feed my body. I eat regularly, am much better with drinking water and getting the hydration I need, and as a result I feel great! Exercise has played a major role in managing symptoms, and in the past two years I have managed to walk either 8km a day and more recently running 3 to 4 km on my treadmill daily. Stress, well that has been managed through mindset shifts, and making changes in my life. Sleep so much better by practicing good sleep hygiene. Medications? None. I do take Align® gummies daily, which I noticed help. If on an antibiotic I increase the number of gummies. Metamucil® from time to time, my fixer if gut does become irritated.
In summary, it has been a long complex journey, but I have lived life to the fullest despite the challenges. This journey has taught me self-awareness, and that my gut changes. Upon reflection, one aspect of this journey has been understanding what aspects impact my gut and having solutions to maintain healthy. I am thriving and living my best life with IBS – and you can too!
Marica is a pharmacist located in Burlington Ontario. She has a broad exposure to pharmacy working in different sectors- Community pharmacy, hospital, moving to Pharmaceutical industry, third party payor. Positions held in addition to pharmacist, pharmacy manager to director of operations, consultant and educator. Currently Marica’s passion for enabling people to manage their health coupled with personal gut health journey has lead her to be a Health and Wellness Coach to enable professional women with IBS to Take Control of their Gut and Thrive.
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