THURSDAY, July 5 (HealthDay News) -- Rachel Byrd doesn't remember a time before she had stomach pain and digestive issues. But her symptoms got so bad in 2009 that she rushed to the hospital, thinking her appendix had burst because the pain was so intense.
As it turned out, Byrd didn't need surgery. Doctors did diagnose her with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), though she said it wasn't as straightforward as getting a blood test and then getting a diagnosis.
"They have to rule out everything else before diagnosing IBS," said Byrd, now 26 and living in San Francisco. "It's not an exact science." She had a CT scan and other tests and said that "they didn't find anything else wrong, so by my symptoms and ruling out everything else, they were able to diagnose IBS."
Initially, Byrd tried taking fiber supplements to control her IBS symptoms, but she said they made her feel bloated and upset her stomach. Today she manages her symptoms by watching what she eats, doing yoga and doing her best to keep her stress levels in check.
"I went to a nutritionist and really changed the way I was eating," she said. "I cut out processed foods and ate more whole foods high in fiber. I also had to give up coffee completely."
For Byrd, stress at work tends to be the most frequent cause of symptom flare-ups. "I may not eat as well as I should if I'm stressed," she said. "Now I know that if there's going to be a lot of stress at work, I try to make sure that I don't have a lot of caffeine. I also try to be more conscious about what I'm eating and make time for exercise."
For anyone just diagnosed with IBS, "it's important to find a health-care provider that you can work with closely on a management plan," Byrd said. "Read up, read everything you can and try to follow the guidelines on what foods to eat."
And one more thing: "Try to find ways to not internalize stress," she said.
"For so long before I was diagnosed, I was eating and drinking things daily that made my symptoms worse," Byrd said. "Eliminating things made my symptoms so much better. It was kind of surprising. You have to figure it out through trial and error, and that was hard. But if I watch what I eat, and I'm able to do something active every day, I see a big improvement."
A companion article provides details on irritable bowel syndrome.