I’ll be honest, I’ve been putting off writing this post for months. In reality, it may actually be closer to a year but you know me, I like things to be a bit more wrapped up before I start talking about them. I need time to experience things, let it sink in and then figure out what I and other people can learn from it. This post is no exception. I hope you can learn a thing or two from my SIBO diagnosis and gut healing journey this past year…
Okay, let’s get into the post.
I have always been someone with stomach troubles. I’ll never forget the horrible stomach aches I used to have when I was in my teens and first received the diagnosis of IBS. Since then, I’ve talked about struggling with IBS now and then, but honestly, with a healthy diet, a good sense of my triggers and keeping my stress levels down it hasn’t been something that has bothered me in the last few years.
One of the first signs of stress for me is a stomach ache, followed by a breakout. My body has never been shy in letting me know when it’s overburdened. So last year around this time, when I was dealing with really bad anxiety, some trauma from our car accident and the stress of moving from Toronto to San Francisco, my stomach understandably went haywire. I definitely was not prioritizing self-care, and honestly, with everything going on I’m not sure that I could have. I was hoping that it was just a really bad season of my life and that it would pass.
In the New Year, I got the fresh start I was hoping for with a trip to Guatemala. It was really nice to get away, leave the stresses behind and focus on getting my health back-on-track and go into 2017 with positive intentions. While I certainly came back feeling a lot less stressed, my stomach didn’t seem to agree. In fact, it got worse.
I won’t go into too many details, but basically I was dealing with a lot of bloating, gas and very frequent trips to the bathroom everyday. I’ve always been a once-a-day kind of girl so it was strange to be going 3-4x a day and things definitely were not solid. I’m all about poop talk…sorry not sorry.
This persisted for the next couple of months until I decided that I needed to be a bit more proactive about my health. I started being more diligent about my probiotic, adding in more fermented foods and cut out coffee (which some of you may remember). Unfortunately, none of these seemed to help. In fact, my bloating felt like it was only getting worse.
I thought it was time to contact my doctor about what was going on. I sent her a message via our telemedicine platform and she suggested I try cutting out dairy to see if it helps. Besides a little bit of cheese here and there and the occasional yogurt, I don’t consume much dairy and I was skeptical that it was lactose intolerance causing this but I figured I’d give it a try. I did this for 3 weeks and unfortunately noticed no difference. So I ended up booking an appointment to see my primary care physician.
I love my primary care physician and appreciate the fact that she listens to me and doesn’t try to belittle my problems. To anyone out there who is unhappy with their PCP know that it’s okay to look around for your PCP. Every doctor has a different style and you are entitled to finding the right fit for you!
After listening to my story she decided to do a stool sample and blood work to test for a few things. The main things were the gene for celiac disease and a stool test for parasites. Oh the glamor of stool tests! We speculated that since things got worse after Guatemala, we might be dealing with a possible parasite situation.
However, both tests came back with no issues besides low iron, though we both agreed that there was a possibility of there being a parasite that came up undetected. She ended up referring me to a gastroenterologist to explore the issues further and speculated that I might be dealing with a SIBO diagnosis aka Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth.
I’m not a doctor and I don’t want to diagnose you or have you diagnose yourself so I’ll refer you here to find out more, but basically it means there is an excessive amount of bacteria in your small intestine that can cause a whole bunch of issues including, frequent bathroom trips, bloating and even skin issues (hello! hi! that’s me.).
SIBO can occur in anyone but it’s more prevalent in people with a history of IBS and have also travelled to developing countries. It’s possible I had it before going to Guatemala, but it’s also possible I got it in Guatemala. Being exposed to foreign bacteria can always throw your system out of whack. So even if it isn’t a parasite just the exposure to new types of bacteria can affect your digestive system.
So onto the gastro I went with a possible diagnosis and a little more hope. My gastro was also awesome and upon hearing my story, also felt certain I was dealing with a case of SIBO. The only way to test for SIBO is to do a hydrogen breath test. Ultimately my gastro felt it was an unnecessary expense given her certainty this was what I was dealing with and the ease with which you can treat it (a two week antibiotic course).
Now I normally don’t like treating things without a confirmed diagnosis, but I was so desperate to not have to run to the bathroom 4x a day and had developed a strange rash on my belly that I decided to move forward with the antibiotics.
Within 2 days it was like I was back to my old self. Seriously, 2 days. And by the end of the two weeks it was as though the previous 8 months hadn’t even happened. I may be hippie-natural about most things, but in this case I’ve never been more grateful for Western medicine and the access I have to healthcare and quality physicians.
Since then I’ve continued to avoid fermented foods and dairy (besides date night pizza). My digestion has never been better and my skin has actually started to clear up as well. I don’t believe in a magic pill, but this one came pretty close. My doctors were spot on after taking the time to listen, explore and find a treatment plan that worked for me.
The thing about SIBO is that it frequently comes back so you have to be especially careful. Oftentimes it’s encouraged you follow a low FODMAPs diet, but given my history with disordered eating and my preference for being relaxed around food, it just isn’t the right solution for me. I will instead be focusing on how to better support my gut health by slowly adding things in (or back in) like a daily probiotic, fermented foods and plenty of fiber. I’m doing this slowly so you won’t find me guzzling kombucha and chowing down on salads anytime soon.
I’m telling you this story for two reasons:
1) To help anyone out there who is struggling with SIBO or other digestive issues. Maybe it helps you identify your own digestive problems or bring up the conversation with your doctor about a possible SIBO diagnosis. I’m not here to tell you that you 100% have SIBO or tell you how to treat it (I leave that to the professionals), but just give you a reminder that if you do have digestive problems, it is worth exploring them.
2) GET INSURED. If you live in the US, an easier to solve problem or diagnosis like SIBO can get expensive without health insurance. Just imagine the cost if it’s something far worse. I rarely, if ever, get sick, but I’m not risking it just because I’m seemingly a healthy, young woman. So if you haven’t signed up for health insurance, please remember the enrolment deadline is December 15th. That’s in TEN days. If you’re confused, uncertain and want to explore your options, howtogetcovered.com will help you out.
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I have a feeling this post will come as a surprise to most of you since I have not discussed any of my digestive troubles this year. Like I said, I oftentimes need to experience something and process it before I can talk about it. I also am weary of creating more problems for people where they don’t exist. Stress is real and can affect your digestive system, hormones and pretty much every other aspect of your life, so don’t immediately jump to conclusions about diagnosing every single health issue. Sometimes we get zits and gas and dandruff etc…and they don’t need to be a cause for alarm. We aren’t superhuman. But when problems persist, seek help. Ask questions, be your own health advocate and trust the experts. I hope this can be the main takeaway from this post.
I’ll keep you updated on how things are doing as I heal my body (in a very moderate and compassionate way) and for the zillionth time, GET INSURED. That is all!
Have you struggled with SIBO? How do you support your gut health?
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