Have you ever heard the sage advice our grandmothers used to give us when we told them we were going to travel the world? They told us not to drink the water. Whatever beverage was offered in a bottle was fine, but don’t drink the water.
If you’re like me, you may have taken this way too literally and chosen to drink juices mixed with water, or ice cubes (also made with water…), thinking you would be safe. I have tested it for you. It is not safe.
Ice cubes turned out to be just as tough on my digestive system as drinking a glass of tap water. Looking back, I totally should have known. But hey, at least I learned something during my trip to Cancun…
Anyhow, there is a point to this. When you travel more than 100 miles and you drink tap water, it will never be the same tap water as the one you find at home. That’s just a fact. Why is it important?
Simply because your own digestive system is not used to the elements found in “far away” water, and it wrecks havoc on your gut.
And I mean HAVOC.
So, what happens? Let’s put it this way: you will be unable to venture more than 50 feet away from a bathroom. Everything will go through you within minutes.
I’ve heard it being called “tourista,” or the tourist’s disease.
To be honest, as Fibro Warriors, we don’t need another -itis to add to our list of ailments. Yet, here we are again.
Unfortunately, Fibromyalgia tends to affect every single aspect of your life.
Often, the digestive issues are referred to as IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. There are many resources out there for IBS patients, and your doctor can help you figure out if your digestive issues are truly IBS related or an entirely different problem.
It has been reported that over half of the patients seeking treatment for IBS also suffer from Fibromyalgia. To me, it is more than a coincidence.
How do you know that your digestive symptoms may be more than just bad cafeteria food? Aboutibs.org tells us, “A number of symptoms that occur together characterize irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
This may confuse you at first. Plus, symptoms will likely change over time. The changes may seem random. But there is a pattern to symptoms of IBS. An accurate diagnosis from your clinician is the starting point for appropriate treatment.”
So there you have it. Thanks to a combination of Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Fibromyalgia, you are now the proud owner of a confused belly. And with that indecisive gut comes the status of lunatic.
Because let’s be honest, people in your life think you’re a bit crazy, with the traveling symptoms and what not.
Story of our lives.
Digestive issues or indigestion?
Before we delve further in the subject, I think we should make sure we understand each other. As you have guessed by now, I’m talking about gut issues. But there is a difference between the occasional indigestion and chronic digestive issues.
Indigestion is a stomach ache, maybe diarrhea, maybe nausea. It has a very defined cause, that you can actually trace back and pinpoint.
It could be a food borne bacteria that was ingested, or eaten, and now is trying to knock your gut out of balance. It could be a virus you caught on the bus or at the store. Or you could just have a mild allergic reaction to a food item.
These signs of indigestion are short-lived and usually resolve themselves with self-care or a doctor’s help.
Now when I talk about chronic digestive issues, I am referring to the resurgence of symptoms weekly or even more frequently. It’s not just because of the burrito you had last night. It shows its ugly head even after eating a salad. A salad, for goodness’ sake! You don’t do healthier than a salad!
(A dang salad… SMH…)
I produced THAT?!?
It’s about to get gross in here. And I mean it. I’m going to talk to you about scat, defecation, dingleberries. Caca. Butt dumplings. Poop, people. I’m about to talk about poop. You’ve been warned.
A normal stool should be molded, easy to pass and easy to wipe. That’s what I always thought. Then suddenly, my poop became weird. It coincided with fibromyalgia flare-ups, so it wasn’t too difficult for me to make the correlation between the two.
What exactly do I mean when I say my poop changed? It started to float. Look, I’m not a genius, but Archimedes once upon a time demonstrated the law of hydrostatics, which is a fancy word for buoyancy.
Which itself is a fancy word for describing things that float. Here is how it works: the density of an object will determine its floating abilities. If something like, say, a tootsie roll, is placed in water, its density is higher than that of water, and therefore it will sink.
Concurrently, if something like, say, the foam in your root beer float, is thrown in water, it will float.
Same with your poo.
Normal feces sinks because your innards compacted the waste to form a nice little log of yuck. And everybody knows that logs of yuck sink.
Now if you’re a Fibro Warrior, you may have noticed that going to the bathroom can sometimes resemble opening of the flood gates of a murky swamp. And by murky swamp, I mean lots of weird greasy, oily, floaty poop.
It’s a bit scary at first to be honest. I really wondered what was going on with me the first time it happened to me.
First, it feels like your entire body is throwing up via your booty hole. It feels like nothing will ever be left in your intestines and colon, given the amount of waste you just produced.
Second, it looks weird. The entire visible surface of the toilet water is covered in fluffy poop. It shines. Not even kidding you. It looks super greasy, just looking at it.
Third, it floats. After a large meal, I sometimes will have a large poop. It will sink to the bottom of the water, and then it may peak its little brown nose out of the water a little to see what’s going on out there. That kind of nuggets is rare.
But let me tell you that the first time you turn around to flush, and you look at your creation (don’t lie – everybody looks at their poop before they flush), and you see nothing but excrement… you start to wonder what kind of alien is hatching in your belly.
But fear not, fellow scat observer! There is nothing at the bottom of the pool. It’s all appearance, zero substance!
I have to go. NOW!
The urgency is the most inconvenient issue of Irritable Bowel symptoms.
Think about it this way: if you mixed school glue with olive oil, you called it gloil, and you placed it in a funnel, how long do you think the funnel could hold the mixture inside the top part of your funnel (I’m sure there’s a word for that, but not for me today, sorry)? It would leak pretty darn fast, actually.
Even if you had a sphincter-like flap on the bottom part of your funnel (yep, probably is a word for that too, please refer to last parenthesis), even if you placed all your mental strength in keeping the gloil inside, it would eventually exercise enough pressure on the flap that the only option would be to let it go.
That’s what it feels like to have constant diarrhea. You can’t venture out of your home because you know you will need to go to the bathroom in 15 minutes, if not sooner.
And sadly, you become very good at stockpiling toilet paper. And you don’t laugh at shart jokes nearly as much as you did in 5th grade (shart is kind of a solid fart – it’s about as pleasant as it sounds).
And that’s not even the worst of it all…
Who is twisting my insides?!?
Oh yes. The twisting pain. It’s agonizing. It feels like there is an army of bored trolls with pitchforks in your stomach. Sometimes they’re playing tug of war. Sometimes they’re playing lawn darts with their pitchforks.
I once thought that I was suffering a bad case of appendicitis. That was a couple of years ago. I was not vomiting, and I did not have a fever.
But other than that, the pain was so intense that I almost blacked out. My best frenemy the internet told me I would certainly die of sepsis before I reached the phone to call the ambulance. I was done for. It was an atypical case of appendicitis, I just knew it.
Then I remembered that I had my appendix removed in 1983. Oops. Not appendicitis.
But that is how terrible the pain level can get with irritable bowels.
So where does the pain come from? When you suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms, your gut is not functioning properly.
It gets all out of whack for no reason, and the foods you eat are no longer processed the way they should be. So your bowels get distorted. And what does any organ do when it is stretched thin (literally!)? They send pain signals to the brain, to notify His Brainness that something is wrong.
And who feels pain deeper than most people? That’s right. Fibro Warriors, that’s who. Lucky us…
Oh, hello, there, Contradiction.
Ugh. It had been a while since I contradicted myself…
Turns out that while the symptoms I experience with fibromyalgia related Irritable Bowel Syndrome are loose stools and belly cramps, other people suffer from the exact opposite: constipation and belly cramps!
Ok, so not the polar opposite, since stomach pain is still a common symptom, but still not the same. At all!
What is constipation? Constipation is rush hour traffic piling up on a city highway, during construction season. Everyone is pushing to get through, but nobody is moving. And the guy with his little stop sign and his bright yellow vest is looking at you like, “Dude, the signs warned you…”
Constipation is equally as plan-ruining and joy-sucking as diarrhea is. To say it is uncomfortable is a gross understatement.
In addition, is constipation lasts more than a full week, then you definitely want to check with your medical professional team.
It could be a bowel obstruction or diverticulitis, both of which are medical emergencies. (Sorry if I’m freaking you out, but better safe than sorry after all.)
The pain from constipation can be quite debilitating. Your intestines are trying hard to squeeze all of that waste out, but they can’t. And so, it hurts.
Did I eat an angry narwhal?
Often, when you hear of people having digestive problems, the reflex is to ask, “What did you eat?” Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.
While a balanced diet is key to improving or maintaining good health, keeping Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms at bay is far more complex than simply watching what you eat.
Now, with that said, there are certain foods that facilitate inflammation in your gut, just as there are foods that protect your intestinal flora.
Rest assured that you did not swallow a furious marine mammal. That horrible feeling in your gut actually may come from ordinary (edible) food.
The foods to eat/avoid will vary depending on your symptoms.
If you most often have diarrhea, the following are foods you may want to reconsider:
- Foods with too much fiber in them, such as fruits, fruit juices, and whatever does not dissolve in water.
- Artificial sweeteners, such as sorbitol, which you find in almost all sugar-free gums.
- Coffee, tea, chocolate, caffeine, alcohol – anything that allows me to not slap silly half of my neighborhood in the morning…
- Greasy and/or fried foods, since we are trying to eliminate the amount of gloil in your funnel.
- Soda or pop, depending on where you live.
- Lactose and gluten have also been cited as sources of diarrhea, so beware of those, in case it affects you – signs would be feeling bloated and like your intestines are about to burst.
If you most often have constipation, the following are foods you may want to reconsider:
- Refined wheat products, such as white bread and refined flour.
- Coffee, tea, chocolate, pop or soda, alcohol – anything fun.
- Processed food, like sliced radioactive-orange cheese, most cookies, and most chips and tortillas – and there goes your Labor Day barbecue…
- Lactose and gluten – see previous list above.
- Red meat and products containing a high amount of protein, like in energy bars and some weight-loss meal replacement “shakes.”
Is there anything I can eat?!?
Of course, there is! You can have water and… and… dang. That’s not very encouraging…
I’m just kidding! There are plenty of alternative choices you can make to ease your Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms.
- Drink a lot of water – in case of constipation, it will soften your stool; in case of diarrhea, it will replenish the water your body is discarding.
- Control your fiber intake – intake more fiber, and it will help with your constipation, since fiber will retain more water than other aliments, thus allowing your stools to be softer; intake less fiber, and it will help ease your diarrhea symptoms – positive sources of fiber can be whole-grain products (such as whole wheat bread, whole grain pasta, brown rice, barley, oats, etc), the flesh of fruits (avoid the skin) and dried fruits (such as prunes).
- Avoid artificial everything – look out for sneaky artificial sweeteners, such as sorbitol, aspartame, sucralose and saccharin; instead you could try honey, stevia or good ol’ sugar.
- Trick your brain – drinking water one hour before a meal will trick your stomach into thinking it’s full; you can pick up pine nuts of flaxseed an sprinkle it on salad, in shakes, etc; eat smaller portions and take your sweet, sweet time while eating – too often we gobble down our meals without even waiting for our bodies to process the feeling of being full, but if you take your time, your brain will rein down your stomach.
- Stay away from… vegetables known to cause bloating and intestinal discomfort, such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, onions, cabbage, beans, celery, raisins, etc.
Any non-food triggers?
Of course, there are. Did you think this would be easy? Ugh. I agree. Too many rules and lists and stuff and symptoms…
Here it goes anyway:
- Eat smaller portions of food, and eat slowly. See above.
- Avoid stressful situations. Yes, I know. It’s a stupid advice. I’ve never understood it myself, because usually stress isn’t exactly something we plan and put on our agenda. But just in case you find yourself in a position where you have the choice to avoid stress, go for it.
- Don’t eat at work, or in front of your TV. In our modern, busy society, we tend to multitask a bit too much. Chances are, when you have to eat at your desk or in your car, you need something fast and easy to eat, and sure don’t have time to scrutinize the ingredients list. Reminding yourself that you need to be mindful of what you eat will help you, I promise.
- Be in control of your life as much as possible. Of course, there are always the inevitable problem showing up like we’re throwing it a surprise party. That’s why I said, “as much as possible.” We’re not superheroes.
- Ladies, this one’s for you… Yep, you’ve guessed it. Women will see a resurgence of symptoms coinciding with their menstrual cycle. Sigh.
As you already know, there are many challenges Fibro Warriors face. Unfortunately, digestive issues are one of those invisible symptoms no one can discern.
Plus, to be honest, no one ever wants to talk about poop as much as I have in this article. It’s embarrassing. But trust me, your medical professional has heard (and seen) everything there is to hear (and see) about the human body.
Don’t be shy, ask away. You’ll be happy you did, especially once you get your symptoms under control.
I hope these few words on IBS can help at least one person. You can even read this article from your throne, like millions of other smartphone owners do!
Until next time, fellow Fibro Warriors!