Posted 21 July 2001 - 02:21 PM
I am a 38-year old male who has had chronic illnessfor approximately the last 11 years, though I had hadepisodes infrequently before. My primary chronicillness is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). But Iprefer to characterize my illness as a disease-complexthat includes other chronic illnesses such asperennial allergic rhinitis, asthma, a bout withfunctional dyspepsia, a more recently acquired sleepdisorder and upper back/neck pain due to compresseddisk in spine. I have other periodic, secondarysymptoms that are likely a result of these illnessesand include such things as occasional migraineheadaches, frequent colds, fatigue, mild "feverish"feeling, back pains, itchy/scratchy tongue, skinrashes, sexual dysfunction, muscle twitches, and otherseemingly "random" health problems. Some of thesesymptoms fall under the umbrella of symptoms of"fibromyalgia". However, I understand this is asomewhat loosely defined disease.A summary of my symptomsMy IBS symptoms can be described as primarily asensitivity to a host of foods. These sensitivitiescause a wide range of symptoms including pain,intestinal spasms, diarrhoea, constipation, gas,bloating, urgent bowel movements, etc. The actualsymptoms vary from day to day, week to week, month tomonth or year to year. The symptoms are madesignificantly worse with stress. My symptoms in thepast have also included that of functional dyspepsiain the early stages of the disease. Functionaldyspepsia symptoms include frequent stomach acidity,heartburn and potential for ulcers.How I cope with my symptoms?The primary means for coping with symptoms include:- Identify trigger foodsIdentifying trigger foods is a long, arduous processthat is constantly a work in progress because triggerfoods can change with time. My symptoms and foodsensitivities are always worse when my seasonal nasalallergies are worst. One would need to maintain adiary of foods, to track down the culprits - thoughthe general patterns are similar for a lot of IBSpatients. For example, dairy products, fried foods,spicy foods, etc. Dairy product sensitivity iscommonly attributed to lactose maldigestion but itcould also be due to sensitivity to the milk proteincasein. One needs to learn the differences betweendairy products : fully cultured yogurt is normallygood for most IBS'ers but frozen yogurt is onlypartially cultured so has plenty of lactose.- Diet controlDiet control involves controlling one's food intake toavoid or minimize trigger foods and at the same timegetting sufficient calories to maintain a reasonablynormal body weight and to provide sufficient nutrientsand vitamins needed by the body. Diet control isoften made difficult by the fact that one's triggerfoods can change with time. Another difficulty is theability to control one's desire for certain foods andtastes. Also add supplemental fiber to your diet. Generally, as a matter of policy, eating smaller meals(and may be eating more frequently) works well.- Knowledge of disease, symptomsKnowledge of the disease and its range of symptoms isa huge factor in decreasing the anxiety associatedwith the disease/symptoms. The anxiety and stressclearly exacerbate the symptoms of the disease. Thereis a lot of new research that is being conducted onIBS and information is fairly easy to find on theinternet.- Online Support groupOnline support groups are of great value for severalreasons: 1) you get to chat with others with similarsymptoms, especially symptoms that are awkward anddifficult to talk about with most people; 2) hearother people's approach and solutions to problems; 3)hear of other treatments, efficacy of herbaltreatments; 4) helps keep up to date on articles andnews related to disease.- Relaxation, Meditation, Alternative medicine,Physical ExerciseRelaxation, abdominal breathing, meditation, massageand other alternative therapies have great value evenif they do not offer a cure to the disease. Approaches learnt from relaxation, abdominal breathingand meditation helped me to listen to my body betterand find simple solutions to ease some of the spasmsand pain. I was able to sense the coming of an attackearlier take some precautions. Overall, I have learntto suffer less with these approaches. Also, this is aconstant work in progress, always learning new ways todeal with problems, especially because symptoms oftenchange from year to year or season to season. Regularphysical exercise also is a great contributor tooverall health.- Lifestyle changes with a goal to reducing stressLifestyle change is another approach that can bebeneficial, though is often very hard to do. Especially, for example, changing one's job or careerto reduce stress. I have stayed in my somewhatstressful occupation but I have incorporated somelifestyle changes such as working regular hours,eating regular hours, taking frequent short breaks inoffice to relax and breath deeply, letting myco-workers know of my sensitivity to stress, nottaking on additional responsibilities (often needed toattain excellence or rapid advancement in career),etc.- Medications - OTC and PrescriptionI mention this last but it has been a very criticalpart of my survival of IBS symptoms. Every time myIBS got really bad, the only way I was able to bringthings under control and still go to work every day,was through medication. I have to reluctantly admit,that the medicine that helped me the most was thelong-term use of low dose antidepressants(amitriptyline, 20 mg/night). I say reluctantly,because there were many a times when I was frustratedwith what seemed like very slow effect or some nastyside effects. Other drugs that can be useful includeanticholinergics, such as, levsin (hyoscyamine). Alsofor me, since my allergies and asthma are almost asbad as the IBS itself, controlling those with drugshas also helped me a great deal.Several of these coping mechanisms are a constant workin progress that need to be frequently modified orupdated.