Piecing the Puzzle Together

When a bout of diarrhea and stomach pains assailed Madeleine Auger (a pseudonym) ten years ago, she shrugged it off as indigestion. It was only when the symptoms continued for six months, waxing and waning unpredictably, that Auger, 33, grew concerned.

"The doctor told me I had a hard stomach,"says Auger, who lives with her partner and baby daughter in St. Georges de Beauce, Quebec. "I thought, 'what's a hard stomach?'"A barium enema, blood tests, and endoscopy followed, yielding no information about what might be wrong. 

Meanwhile, the stomach pains and diarrhea persisted. "Everybody had an opinion about it,"she recalls. It's stress. I know someone who had the same thing and then stopped eating X and was fine. My aunt started taking supplement Y and her symptoms disappeared. Auger's doctor sent her for more testing, once again coming up empty-handed. 

Finally she got a diagnosis that made sense. "I was told I had Irritable Bowel Syndrome, IBS, that my bowel wasn't working properly, and that stress could make it worse,"she says. Advised to modify her eating habits, she set out to add fibre-rich foods to her diet and avoid bloat-inducing foods such as cabbage or beans. Though she put in a full day's work as the director of an assisted-living facility, she made time to hit the gym, take walks, and play golf to keep her stress levels in check. All this added up to a noticeable improvement in symptoms, with flares subsiding to a day or two per month. 

Pregnancy threw a monkey wrench into Auger's routine, and stress came back with a vengeance when she learned that her infant daughter would eventually require cardiac surgery. A bad relapse sent her back to a gastroenterologist's office for advice on "how to live better with IBS."He suggested probiotics and a lower endoscopy, options Auger intends to explore in the near future. 

For the time being, she says "things are going well. Every once in a while I have a relapse that lasts three or four days, but most of the time I feel fine."On the advice of a naturopath, she cut milk products from her diet, finding this measure to reduce the severity of her symptoms. A laxative helps keep her regular.

With the benefit of hindsight, Auger urges other IBS patients to "rely on professionals but also on your own instincts. Be attentive to your own body, choose foods you tolerate –either food and stress – on your plate."

Enhancing lifelong health

The Canadian Digestive Health Foundation believes our ability to help establish, enrich and protect a healthy gut microbiota is the key to lifelong health