How I was Treated for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, is a chronic incurable illness affecting the function of the digestive system. I was first diagnosed with IBS in 2001. My symptoms included bloating, gas, stomach and intestinal cramping, nausea, and alternating constipation and diarrhea. I was no longer able to digest wheat or dairy. I first saw my general practitioner who ordered blood and stool tests. All of my blood and stool tests came back normal. There was no sign of parasites, infection, or intestinal bleeding. My doctor prescribed phenobarbital, an antispasmodic drug to treat the abdominal cramps and diarrhea. I was referred me to a gastrointestinal specialist for further evaluation.

My gastrointestinal specialist tested me for celiac sprue, an illness where the body does not digest wheat gluten. The results were negative for celiac, so I kept my diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome. The doctor ordered a barium enema x-ray in order to examine my colon. In this procedure a radioactive element, barium, is introduced into the colon through the rectum for a short time while x-rays are taken. The barium allows for the doctors to see details of the colon in the x-rays. The barium is then removed from the colon. The barium enema x-ray was really unpleasant. I fasted for a day before the procedure and took a laxative the morning of the x-ray. I went into the hospital and dressed in a hospital gown. I was not required to remove my genitalia piercings. The nurse with me was very kind and very comforting, but she did need to give me an enema with barium. The fluid was cold and gray. It irritated my already sensitive colon, but the nurse was careful to work slowly and not cause me much pain. I was given the choice to watch the monitor and see what my colon looked like, but I didn’t find that idea appealing. After the procedure I was able to eat and return to work.

The barium enema x-ray did not show any abnormalities in my colon. The doctor ruled out more serious digestive conditions and I kept my diagnosis of IBS. By this time several months had passed since I was first prescribed Phenobarbital. It seemed like I had developed a tolerance to it. The prescription no longer reduced my irritable bowel syndrome symptoms, so I was prescribed dicyclomine, another antispasmodic.

I continued to live my life with the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. I found it helpful to take fiber supplements and to reduce the amount of coffee I drank. After a few more months I seemed to develop a tolerance to dicyclomine. My IBS symptoms were increasing and I was having difficulty working with constant abdominal cramping and diarrhea. One morning my abdominal cramping was so severe that I went to the emergency room thinking that I might have appendicitis. It was not appendicitis, so I was sent home. I returned to my general practitioner and asked to be referred to another gastrointestinal specialist for a second opinion. The new specialist prescribed a stronger prescription, robinul forte, and ordered more tests. I was tested for celiac sprue again and took more blood tests. There was nothing abnormal, so again I kept the diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome. I was scheduled for a flexible sigmoidoscopy. This is a procedure where the doctor inserts a small camera through the rectum to examine the lower part of the colon to look for disease. Again, I had to fast for a day and take a suppository laxative the day of the procedure. I had a very bad reaction to the suppository. I fainted, and had a lot of abdominal pain. I was not able to empty my colon for the doctor to be able to perform the procedure. We rescheduled and I was given instructions to take a gentler laxative.

My condition continued to worsen. The IBS symptoms were making daily life difficult. I was missing work, and school because of severe abdominal cramping and diarrhea. The second flexible sigmoidoscopy showed no physiological abnormalities. By this time I was experiencing chronic nausea and frequent diarrhea. I was passing completely undigested food in my stool in less than six hours after eating. The nausea was so severe that I had no appetite. The irritable bowel syndrome symptoms were very painful and I was losing weight. I was not able to eat and I was not able to work. I was also missing college classes, but I was able to keep up by studying at home. I was not responding to any prescriptions for IBS, dietary changes or fiber supplements. The gastrointestinal specialist ordered an endoscopy and colonoscopy. During an endoscopy a small camera is inserted down the throat, while the patient is sedated, to examine the stomach. A colonoscopy is similar to a sigmoidoscopy except that the full length of the colon is examined.

I took a medical leave of absence from work for irritable bowel syndrome. It was very embarrassing to try to explain to my boss why I was so ill. I didn’t feel comfortable talking with him in detail about my diarrhea, nausea and abdominal cramping. I gave him some information that I printed from the internet about irritable bowel syndrome. I don’t know if he ever really understood why I was so ill, but I had a doctor’s note that excused me from work.

While waiting for the date of my endoscopy and colonoscopy I became desperate for relief. I went to see an acupuncturist. He took a very in depth health history, asked many questions about my bowel movements and diet. It felt a little strange and embarrassing, but I was happy to talk with someone that was willing to hear out all my complaints. The acupuncturist explained my condition in terms of energetic imbalances in my body. He treated me with acupuncture needles, and prescribed Chinese herbs. After the acupuncture treatment, felt a little better. I was relaxed and hopeful. I went home to prepare a tea from the Chinese herbs. The tea had a strange taste, but I began to feel my appetite return. I had fewer and less severe symptoms of IBS, and I was able to eat again. I drank the tea twice a day. I returned for another acupuncture treatment after a week. I drank tea for another week. I received weekly acupuncture treatments for a month. For the next two months I received acupuncture treatments every two weeks. I felt more well after the acupuncture treatments than I had felt after seeing the gastrointestinal specialist. My irritable bowl syndrome symptoms were almost non-existent. I was still experiencing some abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea and nausea, but I was feeling much better.

At this point in time I was able to get in for the endoscopy and colonoscopy. My IBS symptoms were not as severe as they had been the last time I had seen the doctor, but it was very important for me to have this test. I wanted to rule out any serious illness and confirm that I really had irritable bowel syndrome. I had to fast for two days in order to empty my colon. The morning of the procedures I took a laxative. I would be sedated, but it was an outpatient procedure so I needed an escort to take me home. I had someone drive me to the ambulatory care unit. At the ambulatory care unit I dressed in a hospital gown, and was taken into the procedure room and given a nasal oxygen mask to ensure that I could breathe during the procedure. I was given an I.V. sedative. It took a while to kick in, but when it did I felt very good. I slept through the entire procedure. I was not aware of the tube being inserted down my throat first or the tube being inserted in my rectum later. The doctor took a sample of the lining of my large intestine for testing. I slowly became aware as they finished the procedure and took me to the recovery room. When I recovered the nurse explained to me that I should eat lightly in order to help my body adjust after two days of fasting and the procedure. I went home and had a very restful sleep.

When I saw the doctor for the results of my exams I was told that he found hemorrhoids, a hiatal hernia and gastritis. The hemorrhoids were probably a result of the chronic diarrhea. The hiatal hernia is a condition where a small part of the stomach near the food pipe is pulled up above the diaphragm. This condition can cause frequent heartburn. Gastritis is an inflammation of the stomach lining. It can be caused by a number of different conditions. There was no other physiological cause for my IBS symptoms, so the doctor confirmed that I did indeed have irritable bowel syndrome. I had already tried all the available prescriptions for IBS, and there was nothing else the doctor could prescribe. I really felt that the doctor was as frustrated as I felt. There was no other treatment for my irritable bowel syndrome symptoms. At this time I was very satisfied with the results of the acupuncture treatment and dissatisfied with the medical treatment. I still had the diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome, and I was given the impression that the doctor had no other prescriptions or treatments that he could offer. I had no interest in pursuing further medical treatment, and I continued to receive acupuncture treatment.

I still have irritable bowel syndrome. Only time will tell if more treatments become available or if a cure is found. I still experience the symptoms of bloating, gas, stomach and intestinal cramping, nausea, and alternating constipation and diarrhea. I am still not able to eat wheat or dairy. Recently I discovered that peanuts were also causing me bloating and gas. I receive acupuncture treatment when the symptoms get worse. My irritable bowel syndrome is manageable with acupuncture. I have increased the amount of fiber in my diet.

I don’t know if my experience is typical. I know that many people experience mild irritable bowel syndrome symptoms and never need a doctor or prescriptions. I suffered from a lot of pain, humiliation, and I was disabled by irritable bowel syndrome. It is unfortunate that there was no medical treatment for my severe IBS. After all those tests I had no more options for treatment. I will always have irritable bowel syndrome and I will always seek out acupuncture treatment for the IBS symptoms.

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