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How I was Diagnosed with IBS

In this post, I am taking you through the beginning stages of my digestive disorder, how I found a gastroenterologist at the time, and how I was officially diagnoses with IBS.


The Onset of Symptoms


I was officially diagnosed with generalized Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS in spring of 2021. However, I started to experience symptoms of IBS, including cramping, nausea, change in bowels, lack of appetite, and brain fog in the beginning months of 2020.


Since the onset of my symptoms, I delayed going to the doctor for official testing and diagnosis. For one, it was not the ideal time to deal with stomach pain. Not only was I returning back to college after a semester of studying abroad, but I was balancing a heavy workload at the time. Fitting in doctor's appointments, especially going to college in a different state, just wasn't in my agenda.


Timing got even worse when March 2020 rolled around. I returned back to Texas for an "extended Spring Break", and we all know where that took us. Even though my symptoms began to worsen at home, the chaos of healthcare during that time made it impossible to see a doctor for symptoms other than COVID-19. My stomach pain had to be put on hold, because there was no way I was stepping into a waiting room filled with COVID.


But the time eventually came where I could no longer take my stomach pain. Spending your afternoons and evenings curled up on the bathroom floor and withering away in pain was not ideal for a 21-year-old, especially during the middle of the pandemic. It was time to face the waiting room.


The First Doctor


It was honestly a blessing being back home in Texas where I could see my primary care doctor for my symptoms. This was the same primary doctor that helped me through a series of migraines, birth control issues, and more in high school. She was aware of my past medical history, and I knew I could trust her opinion moving forward.


When I first expressed my digestive issues to her, she immediately took that as a red flag. She ordered blood work and a Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) test for me. After the initial tests, I was negative for SIBO and my blood work came back mostly normal, I was just low in Vitamin D. Nothing else came from this appointment and by this time I had to return back to New York for my final semester of college.


The Second Specialist (aka, Dr. Google)


I began to take matters into my own hands when I went back to campus. My stress and anxiety heightened, mostly because I was not pooping or would have to run to the bathroom during a meal. I would wake up nauseous, go to bed nauseous, and just could not stomach any meals. From the internet and family-friend advice, I realized I probably should start taking probiotics to help with my microbiome (whatever that is) and maybe increase my fiber. So I went to Amazon to order my first bottle of probiotic supplements and Super Greens from the Garden of Life to up my fiber intake.


I also significantly altered my diet. I realized that even though I ate "healthy" snacks, they were still mostly packaged bars from the pantry aisle with tons of added sugars and unnecessary chemicals. I realized these probably weren't ideal for my gut. I cut out most processed snacks, refined sugars, and would not allow sweets into my kitchen (I had a hugeee sweet tooth and knew this was the only way to cut back on added sugar). I stopped using creamer in my coffee, and condiments in my food, and upped my intake of protein, healthy fats, and greens.


Even though I altered my diet and added some supplements, nothing really seemed to help me at this point. I just continued on with my symptoms and some days would be better than others. I reasoned with myself that I simply did not have the time, money, or energy to figure out my gut issues when graduation and "the real world" were just around the corner.


Navigating the "Real World" and My IBS


I was in luck that I graduated early from college, because that spring gave me the opportunity to focus on myself, my career, and finally find a doctor that could help me. For a while, I was torn at who I should see next. Should it be a new primary care physician in New York; a gastroenterologist, or a holistic doctor? Being young and having no sense of guidance made it extremely difficult to find the right doctor for me. It also did not help that my family did not have the greatest insurance, and I knew it was going to be costly to see any type of doctor (thank you, American healthcare).


Finally, I decided to go the traditional route and see a gastroenterologist. Besides, the issues I were experiencing were with my digestive system, so it made sense to see a doctor who specializes in disorders of the gastrointestinal tract. Right?


The Third Doctor: Going the Traditional Route


Our first appointment lasted approximately 15 minutes and 95% of that time was myself explaining my detailed medical history, including my history with migraines, and being on the pill. I also made sure to emphasize that these symptoms started after 5 months of living in Florence. I explained my symptoms in great detail, any extra supplements I was one, and what my diet typically looks like (lots of oatmeal, chicken, rice, and vegetables). After my monologue, the doctor was very straightforward about the stool test I needed to complete and a few medications I could take in the meantime: Metamucil and Charcoal Capsules.


Well, charcoal capsules seemed to work, but would often make me constipated and Metamucil, a chemically filled, fiber supplement made me run to the bathroom. So, safe to say I stopped taking both of those by our second appointment. The stool test I also took came back negative, so my gastrologist ordered an MRI of my abdomen. The MRI also showed that I had no obstruction to my stomach/intestines.


With the tests showing that I had no parasites, bacteria, or obstruction in my abdomen, my gastrologist was then able to diagnose me with generalized IBS. Specifically, IBS-Mixed because I had both constipation and diarrhea. This literally felt like I was back in square one, because in my mind (and thanks to the internet), I already diagnosed myself with IBS months ago. And by the time the official testing was completed, we were well into the summer of 2021. I felt like I wasted energy going through testing, spent a ton of money out of my own pocket, and wasted hours on the phone with insurance to not see any results. It was so defeating to hear that I have IBS, and there was nothing we could do about it.


Yep, my gastrologist literally said, "we do not know what causes IBS and there is not anything we can do about it".


Actually, I lied, there is one thing we could have done about it. They wanted me to take a medication typically prescribed for traveler's diarrhea. They told me I could take it, see how I feel in a few months, and it could improve my symptoms, or it could make them worse. Also, I would need to take it again in 3-4 months if my symptoms came back.


Pardon my French but fuck no! I refused to be put on a medication (that apparently costs thousands of dollars!) that may or may not work. I am good on that.


Also, it really struck a chord with me that I could not be given an explanation as to why I was experiencing these symptoms. Why, would a medical professional, who went through 8 years of medical school specifically studying the digestive system, not know what causes a digestive disorder that affects 15% of the U.S. population!? That alone was so backwards to me. And I refused to believe that that was the only solution we had.


Doctor #4, 5, etc.


Since 2020, I have seen primary care doctors, a gastroenterologist, and two holistic doctors for my digestive issues. I have taken about 3 stool tests, 4 parasite tests, 1 breath test, and 1 MRI. For a year and a half, I was only ever told:

  1. It's nothing! You're fine, just take it easy!

  2. You have IBS. We don't know what caused it. There's nothing really to do.

I knew it was time to move on to a more holistic route for my IBS. Traditional doctors were not providing me with the answers I needed. Yes, they were able to "officially" diagnose me with IBS - confirming my own assumptions. Yet, the lack of knowledge for a cause and subsequential course of treatment really turned me away from the traditional route.

 

As of today, I have not given up on finding the deeper, rooted issue that led to my IBS. Besides, chronic stomach issues don't just "appear overnight", in a seemingly healthy 21-year-old woman - even though it felt that way three years ago. There has to be something more to have triggered these symptoms, and I am ready to learn more about and heal my body once and for all. I know it won't be a simple solution, but knowing I can at least share my story and this journey is all the motivation I need right now🤍


See more about My Lifestyle that Led to IBS here.




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Welcome! If you made it here, you are probably looking for answers on where to begin your wellness journey. I'm Jessica, and I started my gut health journey over 3 years ago. As an avid foodie and wellness enthusiast, I hope to inspire you on your realistic wellness journey.

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