Today’s post is going to shift gears a little bit from the typical recipes and workouts I post, to something a little more conversational, my struggles with IBS.
For the past few months, I’ve been struggling with intense bloating and abdominal discomfort. It’s something that’s gotten progressively worse over the last few months and eventually, I started experiencing these symptoms every day. I would wake up with a hard, slightly bloated stomach leftover from the night before, and end my day with a stomach that looked like the size of a balloon.
As someone who eats healthy, exercises regularly, rarely drinks alcohol, doesn’t like soda and drinks plenty of water, I was incredibly frustrated with my current situation. It felt like no matter what I ate or what I did, I was going to be bloated.
As a future registered dietitian, my obvious philosophy on food is that it is so important to the way our body functions and operates. Clean food in should equal clean bodily movements. Avoiding alcohol, soda, and other overly citrusy fruits should reduce the symptoms of bloating and discomfort. So why hadn’t this worked for me?
I tried eating a gluten free diet for two weeks to see if my symptoms were a result of any food allergies: that didn’t help. I tried incorporating a small dose of fiber into my daily routine: that didn’t help. I also tried taking magnesium supplements to help get my system flowing a little bit better: that didn’t help either.
With encouragement from John and my mom, I finally gave in and decided to make an appointment to see a gastroenterologist. Four weeks later, I was finally able to get in to see the doc.
As eager as ever, I came into my appointment with a three-week long food log and a printout of all of the symptoms I experienced. I had a million questions to ask and a million stories to share with him.
The doctor came in, asked me what my usual symptoms were, and within 5 minutes, diagnosed me with IBS. I didn’t get to tell him any of my stories and I didn’t get to ask him any of my questions before he made this diagnosis. Honestly, I was kind of hoping that I WOULDN’T be diagnosed with IBS, just because it’s such a vague and general diagnosis. IBS is basically just a giant umbrella term for a bunch of symptoms not necessarily tied to any specific problem, but that just sound like IBS, so are good enough to diagnose as IBS. Who knows.
Either way, doc told me that we weren’t taking the “dietary route” and that we would just start directly with antibiotics. I didn’t tell him that I was going back to school to become a dietitian, and that this decision just about went against everything I thought I should do, but instead, I didn’t say a word and gladly accepted the prescription and the lab tests. At this point, I was willing to try anything.
The doctor told me that based upon my symptoms, I probably had SIBO – which stands for Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth. Essentially, SIBO is when there is an abnormally large overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine. In a normal digestive system, our colon is the place that is rich in bacteria; however, for people with SIBO, there is an abundant excess of bacterial growth in the small intestine. When food is absorbed and hits my small intense, instead of it continuing to travel down to my colon, it starts getting digested and fermented by these bacteria, causing gas buildup. This gas buildup causes abdominal bloating, abdominal pain, constipation, and other common symptoms of IBS. There are a number of other ways this infection interferes with the normal digestion of food; however, this is just a broad explanation. If you want anymore information on SIBO, you can watch this video.
I was prescribed on a 10-day dose of the antibiotic, Xifaxan. Xifaxan basically works to kill off the overgrowth of bacteria in my small intestine so that the food I’ve eaten can no longer be digested by it. The downer to this is that this drug also kills off some of the good bacteria, so a usual side effect that occurs is constipation. The other thing with this drug is that it works to kill off the overgrowth of bacteria temporarily; because, within a few months, most of the bacteria grows back and you are recommended to go on another dose of medicine. I don’t know if I like the idea of being on medication for the rest of my life, but currently, it seems like the best option to help control my IBS symptoms.
My experience with Xifaxan has been mostly positive up to this point. By the second day on the drugs, I experienced very little bloating. As someone who was bloated everyday for months prior, you can imagine how elated I was! I felt so much better and was actually able to eat normal-sized meals throughout the day without feeling sick. Throughout the course of the ten-day span, I I felt better than I had in months; however, the day after I stopped the antibiotic, my bloating was back to normal.
I called the doctor immediately and asked what his recommendations were. The nurse advised me to start on the probiotic “Align” to help increase the “good” bacteria that may have been killed off by the antibiotic. She said that if I did not see improvements in two weeks, that they would put me on another dose of the antibiotics to see if a second round would help. I am currently starting the second week of the probiotics and overall, I feel ok. I definitely feel better than when I started this whole process, so I know that the antibiotics have helped, I am just not sure how long this is going to last.
Per the doctor’s GENERAL recommendations, I have also tried to stick to a low-carb diet, since carbohydrates are the macromolecules that cause the most gas production in the body when they are digested. He recommended I avoid foods like apples and grapes, which are higher sugar fruits and would irritate my system. I had already been avoiding them because of the intense reaction they caused when I consumed them. I’ve been problem-free eating bananas so the trade-off isn’t too bad.
Despite the fact that the doctor wanted to basically leave it up to the antibiotics and a loose “low-carb” diet, I’ve made the decision to make a couple trade-offs in my diet that I think have contributed to managing my IBS. I’d like to share these with you all:
- Opted for Egg Beater omelettes in the morning, as opposed to bran cereals or baked breads
- Eaten smaller-sized, more frequent meals as opposed to three large meals (this allows my body time to digest everything and not experience a back-up)
- Reduced my intake of sugar alcohols found in sugar-free drinks and low-carb protein bars
- Attempted to get most of my carbohydrates from natural fruit sugars, like bananas and dried fruit
- Continue to drink plenty of fluids to help provide my body with H20 and keep the digestion process moving
- Avoid trigger foods like apples, grapes, juices, and ice-cream
- Limit my intake of caffeine by drinking less coffee and opting for herbal caffeine-free tea
These are just a few of the minor changes I’ve made in my diet, which I believe has helped to control my IBS symptoms, in addition to the antibiotics and the probiotics.
Have any of you been diagnosed with IBS? What has/hasn’t worked for you? How do you feel about being diagnosed with IBS? Is there anything you’d recommend?