I’m 40 and was diagnosed with IBS in my mid-20s, after several years of suffering. Anyone who’s reading this & is losing hope or feeling frustrated & alone — I’m here to say that managing & treating IBS is possible!
In my 20s, life was terrible; my stomach constantly hurt no matter what I ate & how many OTC drugs I took. I tried everything – Pepto Bismol, Imodium, Tums, Rolaids, Prilosec, Zantac, etc. They were all temporary Band-Aids. I had flare-ups that would last for days or weeks, and during that time I would get severe diarrhea, gas pain, & bloating; other times I’d be constipated & have hard, painful BMs & rectal tearing. Several times at social functions I almost didn’t make it to the restroom in time. The unpredictability was like a rollercoaster – I’d think I was getting better and then plummet into days of bathroom/gut misery. IBS disrupted my daily life, my sleep, & caused a ton of stress (and, I later learned, my stress was causing my IBS!). I was constantly sweating and would dread socializing or traveling. I mentioned it to my doctor during my annual checkup, but they dismissed it as simply stress and food sensitivity & suggested I keep a food journal. I wanted to laugh at the suggestion! “Dear Diary, today everything I ate upset my stomach, just like every other day.”
After spending several hours in the ER one night for unbearable gas pain, dehydration, & cramping, I went to the doctor again, a different one. She diagnosed me with IBS & thankfully recognized that my stomach was over-producing acid; I was prescribed Pantoprazole, an anti-ulcer med. The Pantoprazole started helping almost immediately! Eventually I started to identify my triggers and get a handle on my symptoms. Keeping a food journal did help, but it would have been pointless prior to being medicated. Once I got the acid under control I was able to note several trigger foods – tomatoes/tomato sauce, cola, coffee, sugar, grease, artificial sweeteners, excess caffeine, & certain raw fruits & vegetables.
After years of trail & error, I’ve become more successful at managing my IBS. 100% the hardest but most important thing is CONSISTANCY!!! You cannot only manage your IBS when you have a flare-up; you must be diligent 24/7. The things that have helped me the most are: taking my med every day & not falling behind when I need a refill; a diet high in fiber from fruits & vegetables, eating several small meals a day, & avoiding my trigger foods; drinking a lot of water (64oz +/day); regular exercise (30 mins 5X/week); sufficient sleep (I need 8 hours); and managing stress. Now I only have flare-ups a few times a year. When my stomach/bowels start to act up, I stop & take note of how I’m taking care of myself – if I’ve been eating crap, skipping my workouts, stressed at work, etc., I know I need to get back on track before a flare-up happens.
If IBS is ruining your life, please don’t give up. Keep going to the doctor until you find one who listens to you. Find a medication that helps. Control what you can control – diet, sleep, exercise, etc. And share your condition with the people closest to you, so they understand & can offer support.