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6 years of misery: discovering and treating gastroparesis pain

October 21, 2014

dealing with unknown digestive issuesForewarning: This is a long post. It’s been a long couple of years, so I want to share everything I went through in hopes it helps people out there struggling to find answers to their stomach problems too (as I’ve seen many women struggling in medical forums). So grab some chai tea and a cozy blanket, and settle in for a bit. 

For anyone who knows me, I’ve struggled with stomach issues the past few years. First, it began as severe–I’m talking severe–stomach pain. Like, I wanted to just cut my stomach out or fill it with food to make the pain stop. After a few years, the pain subsided and was replaced with random nausea and vomiting.

I Googled. I searched forums. I saw multiple doctors in two different states, each one with a different diagnosis.

When my symptoms first started, I ignored them. But after a few years, I finally went to see my primary physician at the time, who attributed to stress and IBS, with a side of heartburn. She gave me an over-the-counter antacid and sent me on my way. Obviously, this did not help anything. This was also around the time celiac’s disease became a popular thing, and I was encouraged to go on a gluten-free diet to see if that relieved any of my pain.

The issues seriously subsided, but weren’t altogether gone.

Next stop: an upper GI (where they stick a scope down your throat to check things out, and take a sample to test for celiacs). I took the 2 months leading up to the “surgery” to load up on carbs and junk, hoping to irritate whatever was going on inside me so that it would show up on camera. And what did I get? Nothing. They tested me for celiacs – nope. Maybe I had a celiac sensitivity, whatever that was, but not celiac’s disease.

dealing with unknown digestive issues

Next was a stomach emptying test. I ate radioactive eggs and a doctor tracked my stomach over a few hours to see if it emptied properly. It didn’t. The average stomach takes about 2-3 hours to empty, mine was showing no movement after 4 hours. Oddly, this was great news! Something abnormal was actually showing up! I held onto this prognosis–not really knowing what it meant or where to go from here–until I saw my new primary doctor.

Since my pain and nausea had not gone away, she recommended another GI here in Chicago. One of the top in the nation, she assured me.

I got to his office and, after waiting on that butcher paper for a good 15 minutes after my appointment was supposed to begin, he barreled in, looking irritated and tired. He gave me the once over. Read my chart. Took my pulse. In 10 minutes he told me the last diagnosis was a crock of shit, and more than likely I just had IBS.

IBS? Really? This was around the time I put a fork in it. I was done. No more doctors for me, no thanks.

Now, of course, I still wasn’t 100% sure what was going on. I wasn’t taking medication. I had started eating healthier and exercising consistently, now that Ryan and I were settled in Chicago and preparing for our wedding, but my symptoms still didn’t go away entirely. My mom chalked it up to stress, which made a little sense with the stomach pain, but not so much with the stomach nausea–which became more and more frequent.

dealing with unknown digestive issues

At my most recent yearly check-up, I finally asked my doctor if I could see a nutritionist. It seemed like the only thing I hadn’t tried. She recommended a woman within the system, but told me no insurance covered her (still not sure why) and she cost $150 for the first session. Of course saving up for a wedding, this was not a very logical appointment to make. So I waited–through the planning, the wedding and the honeymoon. And finally, when I was safely back in the U.S., I called. I set a date.

I’m sure every nutritionist and dietician is different, but she was awesome. Just very…relaxed. She read over my previous diagnosis from my GI and listened to what I was told by the other physicians from Wisconsin. We went over my symptoms and daily routines. Daily diet. And she gave me a few names:

Functional dyspepsia. Gastroparesis. IBS.

Oddly enough, all of these diagnosis had been said to me at one time or another by one doctor or another. But no one ever explained to me what they meant, what the symptoms were or how to treat them. NO ONE. A little crazy, right? So every time I left the doctors office, I never felt like I had anything new–other than an over the counter pill to pop. But here it was, all the things I had been told over the years, given to me in legitimate names. With real symptoms that real people, apart from me, were suffering from.

Holy crap. It felt good. To finally know!

Based on my consultation with her, it seems a mix of this dyspepsia and gastroparesis have caused me to have bad reactions at weird times to normal foods.

For example, I went out on a Friday and had a hard cider with some bar food and went home fine. The following day, I had nearly the same thing–a hard cider with some bar food. But this time, I went home feeling extremely ill. Like, trying not to vomit ill.

Another time, I ate 3 nuts a few hours before a 5 mile run, and spent the rest of the run in enormous discomfort.

Or that time I threw up an entire basil leaf, 5 hours after enjoying a drink.

Or, when I made a delicious homemade pizza, only to suffer huge amounts of pain after eating it. Even though a Domino’s pizza–full of God knows what–did’t make me feel sick at all.

These symptoms were finally all explained to me. Without me having to bring them up, she started explaining why my body acts the way it does, what causes it and why it’s happening to me.

I’m not a nutritionist, physician or any medical professional. I think that goes without saying. But this is (in lamens terms) what I gathered and how I am going to move forward:

  • Functional dyspepsia is a pain or discomfort in the upper gut that can cause bloating, nausea, pain, vomiting, among other things, and is not caused by an ulcer
  • Gastroparesis is when your stomach has trouble emptying itself
  • For me, all these names–functional dyspepsia, gastrparesis, IBS–mean the nerve endings in my stomach are especially sensitive to certain foods. They also have trouble digesting foods, so they need some extra help doing that.
  • Apparently, gastroparesis can be caused by food poisoning or a viral attack that your body never heals from (this would make sense, since I contracted mono my senior year in high school, and that was around the time all this pain began)
  • Because my stomach has trouble digesting food, I need to help it by ingesting things that are already broken down. Example: Rather than quiona, consume quinoa pasta–which has been processed and broken down in some way.
  • Gastroparesis also loves routine. So when I switch up the routine (i.e. hard cider with waffle fries) it can handle it one night, but has trouble digesting that much fat and nonsense two days in a row. My nutritionist’s tip? Go 3-4 days between “indulging” in things that are heavy or hard to process.
  • Stay away from whole grains, or don’t go out of my way to consume them, as it is hard for my body to break down (this is also why going gluten-free felt so good to me).

I now have a diet, and some tips, to stick by. Along with a probitotic, which may or may not help. Either way, I have never been more excited to get a diagnosis in my life. To finally take back control of my body and stomach. To know what causes me pain and WHY. It just feels…awesome.

Apparently a lot of healthy women suffer from these same sorts of symptoms too (it’s more common in woman than men, for some reason). So if any of you ladies are suffering from pain or nausea similar to mine, please reach out if you have any questions! Otherwise, I hope I helped someone out there get closer to finding their own answers.

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