It took June Meyer seven different gastroenterologist visits, numerous diets, medications, alternative treatments and 20 years to finally find an effective method that alleviated her symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Nothing worked for the 50-year-old clinical mental health counselor, who spent all day sitting down seeing couples and trying not to complain about her stomachaches — which would start around 1 p.m. — because she didn’t want to play “the victim.”
Irritable bowel syndrome, also known as IBS, impacted every aspect of her life: her career, her sexuality, her self-esteem and her self-identity.
“It really inhibited my ability to feel good while I was working, almost to the point where I was ready to give up my practice so I could do something where I wasn’t sitting all day,” she said.
IBS — the most common gastrointestinal disorder — is caused by changes in the gastrointestinal tract, which affects bowel movements. Symptoms include abdominal pain, an alteration of bowel movements, diarrhea, constipation and bloating. Currently, there are no tests available to diagnose IBS, which is why it is considered a symptom-based diagnosed disorder.
According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, 10 to 15 percent of the population is affected by IBS, and less than one-third of people seek care for their symptoms.
Dr. Baharak Moshiree, director of the motility program at the University of Miami, says treating IBS can be very challenging because every patient has a different experience with the disorder.
Although the cause of IBS is currently unknown, several factors have been said to aggravate symptoms: stress, anxiety, dairy products, legumes such as beans, and cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts.
“Which came first — the chicken or the egg — is kind of hard to figure out,” she said. “What was happening before the symptoms occurred? You want to find out what factors were there before patients started having these symptoms, or if they started having these symptoms and then when they get stressed or anxious, everything gets worse. Unfortunately, the gut does its own thing.”
Although IBS is uncomfortable, can greatly affect patient’s quality of life and currently has no cure, people do not die from the disorder. There are several medications available to help relieve pain, diarrhea and constipation that can be purchased over the counter or prescribed.
Moshiree also says that counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy and hypnosis can also help patients cope with the pain, and alleviate their stress and anxiety.
Her advice: Stay away from narcotics when treating IBS. Although narcotics are effective for relieving pain, these drugs can worsen the symptoms. “We give patients medication to help with the pain, but that do not worsen bowel movements.”
Meyer, who lives in Connecticut and flies to Miami to be treated by Moshiree, says collaboration and communication with your doctor is key to figuring out a treatment that works best for you.
“My change is dramatic. People started saying there was softness to me now that I never had,” she said.
Moshiree wants patients to know that although there is no cure for IBS, they can get relief of their symptoms with treatments.