28 January 2011

My Angry Stomach

Yes that's right. My stomach is angry at me. After three months of going through every digestive test imaginable - involving x rays, blue dye, internal cameras, and loopy sedation, among others - the good news is that the doctors have ruled out everything very serious, and have concluded that I have an unusually bad case of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I was equally amused to find out that it's also called spastic colon. What a spastic, irritable bugger - who knew that my stomach had emotions!

I'd heard of it plenty before, but was surprised when the doctor explained how it works. IBS is a problem in the communication between your brain and digestive system; your brain misinterprets signals from your stomach, and tells your digestive system to speed up or slow down -- when it really shouldn't. So that deliciously creamily melting double chocolate ice cream cone I just ate ends up sitting there in my stomach, creating a nice little puddle of fermenting cream that doesn't actually get broken down in my digestive system. And its been months since I've been able to eat a double chocolate ice cream cone.

Despite a ton of testing that's been done on IBS, still no one knows what exactly it's cause is, but it seems to crop up when your stomach has been weakened (in my case by stress from the beginning of Peace Corps service, Brazilian parasites, lactose intolerance, and possible other parasites that have come and gone.) 

The bad news is that it's a Syndrome, so it's kind of with me for life, and it's a particularly bad case -- but at least I can't pass it to anyone else. The way to manage it is with a restricted diet (no milk and very low gluten for me... forever perhaps), small amounts of regular exercise, probiotics (like the good little bacterias in yoghurt and kim chee), and keeping very low stress ("I'm sorry, boss, but my condition prohibits me from working extra this week..."). I'm also taking aloe vera juice, flax seed, and peppermint oil, all of which have proven to be useful in calming angry stomachs.

Maybe my stomach needs counseling: "Now stomach, what made you reject this food, cramp up, and make a lot of gas?" "Mm hmm.. I see... so what you're saying is that you feel misunderstood by the brain..."

Any suggestions from people who have encountered IBS? Conflict resolution for the stomach?


  1. Elena,

    Sorry to hear of your diagnosis yet so appreciate your spirit and humor :-)

    You and Mark do an awesome job of communicating - both quality and frequency.

    Blessings to both,

  2. great-uncle Ted29 January, 2011 08:52

    What a pain!
    What a strain!
    One would fein
    retrain the brain!

    But... but...
    You know what?
    Nuthin's stubborner
    Than the gut...

    Logic fails,
    sense goes reeling
    when one's dealing
    with "gut feeling"

    Let us hope,
    in this new century,
    science can cure
    what's alimentary ...

  3. sad day! Thank God it is nothing "more serious." As someone who has a family member that suffers from IBS (started after a bout with dysentery), however, I know how challenging it can be. Basically my family has dealt with it by changing diet and not cooking with trigger foods (or at least cooking a separate dish for that one person). Sucks though, since it means not eating foods you used to love. If you can get creative with what you can still eat, though, it can help to mitigate some of the emotions surrounding your dietary constrictions. Best of luck!

  4. Thanks Jenny! Yep, you totally understand the food challenges! I've definitely started to get food creative ... and had to get even more creative with what we can get in Tonga, haha.

    Uncle Ted, wow. The poem made both of us laugh for a long time!


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