Note: I had to separate this article into two parts because I had so much to say about it, so stay tuned for Part 2!
Ever had a REALLY bloated stomach that almost made you look like you were a few months pregnant, got worse after you ate but was better in the morning, and lasted long-term? When random things seem to upset your stomach and create a storm but don’t seem to have anything in common? That’s the summary of what I’ve been going through the past couple of months, and I wanted to be sure to share with you what I’ve found in case you might be going through something similar. I’ll tell you I’ve ripped through hours of research on the internet, tried different supplements and diets, and in the process I’ve discovered some key things about gut issues you might not know.
How It Started
It started when my stools started to be really large. As in, clogging the toilet regularly. It was embarrassing. I have read, somewhere amongst all the literature I’ve taken in, that this is a classic sign of gut dysbiosis, when the bacteria in your gut is out of whack. This makes sense to me, because I had not too long before taken a dose of antibiotics I had to stop mid-course because my body ended up being sensitive to them and I was actually getting fevers from it.
Then one day, I woke up and noticed an immediate lack of appetite. I’m usually really hungry and can’t wait for breakfast in the morning, but this particular morning nothing seemed really all that appetizing. The rest of the day it got worse. I was nauseated, couldn’t eat due to zero appetite, and I even developed an elevated body temperature; possibly a low-grade fever (I didn’t check) and by the time I got home from work I had to collapse in bed.
So now what the heck was this?
This really seemed to come out of nowhere because no one around me had this, I hadn’t been outside of the house all that much recently, and I realized it felt more like my body had an infection somewhere that it was fighting rather than some stomach bug. And, it only lasted about two days max and I was fine!
However, ever since then, I’ve had a distended stomach. Specifically functional distention – meaning my abdomen was visibly bloated nearly all the time to varying degrees throughout the day, but everything else was fine – bowel movements all normal, no other seemingly serious side effects. Worthy to note is this was not normal bloating that you experience after having extra gas. This was consistent bloating that made me look like I had gained a bunch of weight in my midsection.
I did notice my pelvic area also seemed to be puffy and bloated along with my stomach as well. This led me to the conclusion that it was a gynecological issue and I was freaked out for a few days that I had ovarian cancer. I also noticed that hair was falling out at a higher rate and I had weird tired spells earlier this year for no apparent reason.
So, something was definitely out of whack with my body; but like many illnesses, infections, or parasites you can get, this one was really, really hard to put my finger on even what it COULD be, which drove my anxious brain absolutely crazy since I was facing a giant abyss of unknowns.
And guess what, two doctors appointments later and a whole lot of research and reading others’ similar stories, I still don’t have any 100% definitive answers. I’ve realized this is a sad truth with many stomach issues. But not only have I calmed down about it, I’ve found what seems to keep it under control and some key points to consider if you’re experiencing something like this.
Key Point #1: Don’t try to self-diagnose…especially with a gut/digestive issue.
I did, and I soon realized that especially when it comes to the persistent abdominal bloating and distention (or other digestive issues), it could be a symptom of a billion things, so don’t do what I did and immediately assume you have ovarian cancer. You probably don’t, and in fact, the digestive system is ridiculously complicated (says my best friend who’s in medical school). Issues can arise easily.
Here’s my list of conditions I thought I could possibly have that I wrote down to myself in my notebook (mostly noted here for entertainment purposes):
-SIBO (Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth – can be caused by antibiotics)
-C. Diff (bacterial infection) or H. Pylori
-Some kind of parasite
-Pelvic floor disorder
-Candida or severe yeast infection
-Leaky Gut Syndrome
Key Point #2: Important!! Keep a food diary and record times when your stomach is upset
Once I began actually paying attention to when it was upset and when it wasn’t instead of just assuming it was random and persistent…I started noticing patterns. I learned that for some reason, broccoli and eggs, two things I previously ate all the time, now gave my stomach tons of trouble. Oh, and eating a spaghetti plate at Cheesecake Factory? Terrible idea, I really paid for that later. I have to be careful eating out in general…you never know exactly what ingredients they put in things so it’s more difficult to figure out what’s really bothering you.
I couldn’t fathom what could possibly have suddenly made my stomach sensitive to broccoli and eggs though, until I googled that and learned it could possibly be leaky gut syndrome, claimed to be somewhat of a mystery in itself. I had to take that with a grain of salt though too because who knows if that’s truly what it was. However, this is right about when it clicked with me that I needed to start paying close attention to my good and bad days, and what was affecting the bloat.
Key Point #3: Western medicine has a lot to learn about the gut and its relation to overall health…
…So, don’t be surprised if you go to a gastroenterologist only to have them send you home with an IBS diagnosis and some acid reducers. Luckily this didn’t happen to me because I landed on a good doc (not literally), but I heard many people’s stories of their mysterious symptoms with nothing but a mere IBS diagnosis with no insight as to what may have actually caused their condition (or if they didn’t really have IBS and the doc just couldn’t come to a diagnosis). I’ll tell you right now I was not going to accept a diagnosis of IBS, because that essentially would have told me nothing.
For the record, I went to both a GI doc and an Ob-Gyn doc, and had a pretty full workup for gynecological tests to check for infections, and even had a transvaginal and pelvic ultrasound. Everything came back normal (although I did have a few fluid-filled cysts on my ovaries. No big deal, and he said the bloating was likely not from that – which made sense since I also had an overly upset stomach often).
My friend’s mom who had also experienced my exact symptoms at one point in her life (and also had an ovarian cancer scare) did end up having some type of infection causing her symptoms, so it’s always worth it to cover your bases if you have zero idea what the cause could be, even if it costs a bit more.
My GI doc said that it could be gastroparesis, where your stomach has trouble emptying normally. He said that at times gastroparesis is transient and will just go away on its own. He then gave me some VSL#3 (high potency probiotic) and told me to completely avoid all fatty foods, as well as “roughage” – things like broccoli, for example. This made a lot of sense to me and I am basically back to no bloating at all after eliminating any offending foods after figuring out what those foods were in my diary.
Key Point #4: When it comes to these gut issues – depending on what you have, many times the best thing you can do is be vigilant about your diet and eliminate the stuff causing problems. Also…take a probiotic.
Again it depends on what you have, but don’t rely on simply medication to solve the problem, because if your case is anything like mine, medication is only a mask and never would have solved anything. I finally got my bloat down after months to basically non-existent by diet alone.
Also consider taking a probiotic. No matter what you have this can be helpful. They are fairly expensive for the good ones (anywhere from around $25-$60 per bottle), but totally worth it especially if you have taken repeated rounds of antibiotics in the recent past. I won’t recommend a brand (except for VSL#3 which is great – and available at Costco I hear) but it’s really a matter of trial and error to see which one works best for you.
And, get the ones you need to keep refrigerated. Forget about the ones laying dormant in a paper box or things like “probiotic gummies.”
There are around 100 trillion microorganisms living in our gut, and we are just now beginning to understand how important those little creatures are in relation to our health! Please try not to wipe them out more than you have to with antibiotics!
In the next part of this article, I’ll go over what supplements I have explored (although these will differ for everyone) and what types of things I’ve introduced into my diet that has not only reduced my bloat but made me feel better. Stay tuned!