I've had the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome -- a gastrointestinal
disorder -- for my whole life, but when I was younger, I didn't realize
anything was wrong. My parents thought my cramps, bloating, constipation, and
diarrhea were normal because they had similar symptoms. So I thought it was
normal, too. As I grew up, I pretty much just coped with it. It was
inconvenient, but I did my best.
But three years ago, when I was 27, after having some minor surgery done, I
had the worst symptoms ever. I had severe stomach cramps and was in pain all
the time. I had a lot of diarrhea. I think it was the stress around the surgery
that triggered this flare, but it went on for months and months. Finally I went
to my doctor, who sent me to a gastroenterologist.
It is not clear what causes irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, but certain factors seem to make some people more vulnerable than others. Risk factors for IBS include:
Sex. About 80% of IBS sufferers are women, reports the American College of Gastroenterology. Researchers aren't sure why this is so, but they suspect that changing hormones in the female menstrual cycle may have something to do with it.
Age. IBS can affect people of all ages, but it is more likely to occur in people...
At first he thought I had acid reflux, but the medication he prescribed
actually gave me acid reflux, so that didn't work. After having an ultrasound
and an upper GI endoscopy, which is an examination with a small camera that
visualizes the esophagus, stomach, and upper part of the intestines, I was
diagnosed with IBS. I had more tests earlier this year and discovered that I
also have a problem with fat absorption. The doctor who ran the lab told me I
needed to start a gluten- and dairy-free diet.
Surviving the Gluten-Free Diet
Gluten is the protein part of wheat and lots of other grains, as well as
starch and other fillers found in processed foods and medications. I already
knew a lot about this kind of diet from my research, and all along was
fascinated with the whole approach. Until, that is, I realized I had to try it
myself. I panicked. I was talking about not eating gluten for the rest of my
life. The permanence of it hit me hard. I felt overwhelmed.
But I'm finding the transition easier than I expected. I stay away from
processed food, unless it's labeled "gluten free" (and there's more and more of
that available now). Otherwise, I find it's easier to cook from scratch. I've
learned there are 30 gluten-free flours to use; Italians cook a lot with
non-gluten flours, such as polenta and garbanzo. I'm also staying away from
MSG, which I think triggers my symptoms. I'm finding a lot of fun dairy
substitutes, and having success with baking. And the diet is working for me. I
have fewer IBS symptoms and am just generally feeling healthier.
I don't have IBS as bad as some people -- I'm not stuck at my house, for
instance, afraid to leave for fear of not being able to find a bathroom. But
like a lot of people, I'm a little shy about it. We all use euphemisms at first
-- we talk about our "tummy troubles," for instance. But I'm glad I've learned
more about the disease and that I'm finally finding some answers that work for