“It all started when I was in fifth grade. From that point on and until high school, I was severely constipated to the point where I was taking Miralax once a day just to be able to go at all. Then, my freshman year of college, things started going in the opposite direction. I started having diarrhea four times a day, and that’s still happening six years later. I used to have really bad stomach pain along with it, but that randomly went away. Imodium helped at first, but it worked too well to the point where I was constipated again. I’ve tried going to so many different doctors, and they originally diagnosed me with lymphocytic colitis, but then retracted that diagnosis. My most recent doctor just told me that I just have a ‘sensitive stomach’, and since then I’ve sort of given up on trying to fix this problem,” said Emily Cohen, an IBS Life reader.
Cohen’s case isn’t a rare occurrence. Digestive issues are hard to diagnose since they can involve multiple tests, doctor’s visits, and even some surgical procedures. Not only do those take time, but they are also expensive, which means that not everyone is able to access a diagnosis for their gut issue. According the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, around 60 to 70 million Americans have been diagnosed with digestive diseases. However, that number could be exponentially higher if everyone had equal access to testing.
Having undiagnosed or even diagnosed digestive issues can take a toll on one’s perception of self. People complain of feeling “gross” because they’re constantly having diarrhea. Some say they’re unhappy with their body image because bloating makes them feel fat. Others talk about feeling hopeless, wondering if they will ever lead a “normal” life.
There are some things people with GI issues can do to improve these feelings of helplessness. One way is to take a stand and become an advocate for your health. Don’t settle for one medical opinion. Seek out providers who will truly listen and actively try to find treatments that can ease symptoms. Reduce the urge to buy fast food and stick to gut friendly foods either at home or at a social function.
If digestive issues are affecting your mental health, find a therapist who specializes in treating patients with GI problems. Facebook groups have the ability to bring similar people together into a community. Seek them out and become an active participant. The key to living with a GI condition is to not give up. Yes, it’s hard and, initially, the road to feeling better may take a while. But keep looking for a solution and surround yourself with a great support system. We’re rooting for you.