Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Journey to Health Part 1: Symptoms & Diagnosis

Happy New Year! Welcome to the time of year when everyone and their cat decides to get healthy! Let me just say- I think that's fantastic. We should all have at least ONE time of the year that we're making an effort to take care of ourselves, amiright? Well, I'm not trying to burst any bubbles, but this is actually not that kind of post. The timing is just really, really coincidental. Truth is, I've been on a journey to health for the better part of a year now. It began 9 months ago as a simple decision to drop some extra pounds and eat healthier foods. As life has a tendency to do, some circumstances came up and various things happened that really started to affect my health in a negative way. I struggled for a good bit before I realized what was actually going on. Once I put the pieces together {and saw a doctor, of course} I figured out what I needed to do to heal my body and feel better for good. I'm still in the very early stages of putting those measures into place, so there's lots of this journey left to experience! But I wanted to document it all for my own reference and as always, to perhaps help someone else.

It all started early in 2016. Hubs decided he wanted to start eating better so we agreed to do a Whole-30 in the month of March. We planned, we ate, and it was awesome. We both did really well sticking to our meal plans and were super happy with the results. We tried and ate things that were totally new to us, learned a lot of new recipes, and realized that, in fact, we could survive without bread. Going forward we decided we would stick to the guidelines of a Paleo-style of eating when we were cooking and eating at home, but would allow ourselves to go off-plan if we were invited to someone's house, or eating out, etc. where we didn't have much control over our food options. So we continued that way happily.

As the year went on we experienced a virtual rollercoaster of stress, worry, excitement and disappointment {which still continue, I'll add}. I know that sounds like normal life, but this was way more than the every day ups and downs everyone experiences. Serious peaks and valleys. Serious fear and worry. And serious excitement, too, like taking our girls to Disney World for the first time ever. Anyway, I will spare you the details of all of those, except to say that looking back I can, almost with certainty, point to stress as the root of my troubles.

It was in the spring time when I first noticed my symptoms- feeling extra full after a normal meal, even a bit nauseous, feeling bloated and needing to burp more than usual {a little TMI, sorry}. The best way I can describe it is feeling like I ate 3 Thanksgiving dinners. Sometimes the nausea was really intense and I'd have to go lay down for a while. I figured maybe it was a temporary issue or something I was eating that didn't agree with me. I've never had stomach problems before except some heartburn in the later weeks of my pregnancies so this was pretty unusual and worrying for me {as if I needed more to worry about}. I started keeping a food journal just in case, but after a few weeks it showed no pattern. Basically it was just eating in general that made my stomach hurt.

As the summer wore on we were trying to make some plans that were very up in the air, changing sometimes daily. One day things would look promising, the next it was looking nearly impossible. There was so. much. going on and my health was paying the price. My symptoms were not getting better. Sometimes I ate very little all day long, skipped meals out of fear that eating would make me feel worse, or stuck to the BRAT diet in hopes that it wouldn't cause me any trouble. I decided to start taking over-the-counter Zantac and made an appointment to see a GI specialist in mid-September. After asking me a few questions about my lifestyle, he concluded that the problems were likely caused by stress, but wanted to do an endoscopy to make sure I hadn't developed an ulcer. After that appointment, I read everything I could about peptic ulcers and adjusted my diet to remove any foods that could potentially aggravate an ulcer. Those include acidic foods like coffee, tea, citrus, and tomato products, as well as foods that increase acid production like dairy. I also increased my Zantac dose to the max OTC recommendation - 150mg x2/day. The Zantac seemed to make a difference, but I wouldn't say my symptoms were gone. I still had instances when they were really bad, in fact. While I was grateful for the relief it gave me, it certainly wasn't a magic pill.

Through the continued stress and excitement, I had my endoscopy in mid-November. The doctor reported that there were no signs of anything serious, just some gastritis {inflammation} and indications of GERD. He also took a few biopsies to test for H. pylori bacteria and celiac disease, both of which came back negative. His recommendation: just keep doing what I'd been doing.

If you've ever been on the receiving end of that advice, I'm sure you understand my disappointment. I came to this doctor hoping for answers. Of course there was some peace of mind in knowing my insides had been checked out and everything was normal for the most part. But to walk away with no solution to my problem was disheartening to say the least. What I was already doing {my own self-treatment, mind you} was just keeping me mostly functional so I could manage to care for my children on a daily basis. I wanted to know how to address the cause of my symptoms in order to make them go away - for good, if possible. I wasn't ready to resign to this as a lifelong condition for which I'd need to take acid-control medications for the rest of my days. I'm 34!

I'm not medically trained in any way, but this is what I don't understand about Western medicine. In so many cases a diagnosis is given and symptoms are managed pharmacologically. The end. I'm sure that part of the reason is that doctors are not properly trained in nutrition and are actually not able to identify the role that a patient's diet is playing in their illness unless the illness is obesity, and even then they would recommend eating a low-fat diet which itself has been proven ineffective. But it's increasingly difficult not to wonder if part of the reason is that there's profit to be made when a patient becomes dependent on medication for life.

Sorry, but that ain't gonna be me. With no further help from my doctor, I was on my own to educate myself and determine my course of action. Fortunately, I'm no stranger to holistic health. I've been a believer in food as medicine for several years now and have done lots of homework on the subject. I'm very familiar with many functional medicine practitioners and have read several of their books. I follow them on social media and keep up with the research they share. So, I knew exactly where to start on my quest to get my health back. And that is how my 2017 began.

Read all about how I researched my condition, decided on my own course of healing, and how that's going so far in Part 2 of this series {coming soon}.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. I'm so sorry you're going through all this! I was having serious issues with severe stomach pain for 5 yrs before I finally went to the ER at Mercy I think?? They ran all the same tests I'd had done but they found a SPECIFIC white blood cell in my STOMACH which was weird. Long story short a very mart GI dr diagnosed me with eosiniphilic gastroenteritis which means that something I was eating-and is not an Allergy but he said it's "kind of like" an allergy and was causing inflammation in my stomach and he thought that was causing the severe pain. So I went off the top 6 most likely foods for 6 wheat (was already eating gf) no dairy, soy, nuts, fish, or eggs. After 6 wks he was amazed- my blood work was completely normal again and I didn't have any more pain. I was happy. But hungry :) I began adding foods back in and add I expected, could never add back in dairy. So I'm completely dairy free and gf now. I'm assuming you've had a gamut of blood work- but if not, ask for all that. Especially to check your specific white blood cell count and your thyroid. Good luck and prayers for you!!!