Monday, November 13, 2017

When The Female Sex Complicates the GI


Have you ever noticed how the symptoms of GI issues are nearly always the same regardless of the actual diagnosis? They all seem to have in common diarrhea, constipation, nausea, cramping, pain, and bloating to some degree. And we can have more than one GI diagnosis thereby compounding the GI symptoms. Without medical testing, how would we ever know which GI diagnosis we have when all the symptoms are the same?

I was recently diagnosed with C Diff, a nasty gut bacteria that creates toxins. It's symptoms? Diarrhea, cramping, nausea, loss of appetite, dehydration, rapid heart rate, and fever. Without testing, my doctor and I would have never guessed I had C Diff as I have nearly all of these symptoms simply due to adhesions and short bowel syndrome. Fortunately though, the infection was discovered and I'm being treated with antibiotics.

My doctor's office called a few days after starting antibiotics and asked how I was feeling. I was able to eat better with reduced pain but continued to have severe bloating and nausea. The nurse was to relay the update and would call me back with any additional instructions from my doctor. However, since talking to the nurse my pain has increased yet again and with the start of my menstrual cycle, I noticed compounding symptoms.

The experience of menstruation is different for every woman. No cycle will be exactly the same nor will the symptoms be exact. Some experience early warning signs of the impending menstrual cycle while others have no symptoms. Some experience excruciating symptoms while others experience none.

There are physical and emotional or mental symptoms that can accompany menstruation. Physical symptoms that are considered normal include:

  • Swollen or tender breasts
    quickmeme.com
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Bloating or gassiness
  • Cramping
  • Headache or backache
  • Clumsiness 
  • Lower tolerance for noise or light

It doesn't take long to realize that several of these premenstrual symptoms easily overlap with those of the GI realm. It's not uncommon for premenstrual symptoms to worsen a woman's existing GI symptoms. There's an interesting study from 2014 discussing GI symptoms before and during menstruation of healthy women. The results showed that even among healthy women, there is a higher incidence of diarrhea and abdominal pain and the presence of GI symptoms increases when a woman is experiencing emotional symptoms or fatigue. It would then be understandable that GI symptoms would further worsen for a woman already prone to GI problems. 

With the start of my menstrual cycle, I often lose my appetite and experience bloating and occasional cramping. These symptoms are identical to my regular GI issues only exacerbated. My already severe bloating is worsened to the point that I feel unable to eat even if I did have an appetite. I already periodically have backaches due to weak abdominal muscles that are unable to properly support my back after repeated surgeries. 

I anticipated my doctor's office to call me again on the same day my menstrual cycle decided to start. I pondered what I would tell the nurse. How could I be sure that my symptoms are from the infection, menstruation, or another issue altogether? I felt such great improvements after just four doses of my antibiotics only for symptoms to worsen once again after four days of treatment.

The remainder of the time on my antibiotics would be the same - excessive bloating, continued nausea, mild pain with eating, and an alternating mix of diarrhea and constipation (as constipated as someone with short bowel syndrome can be anyway). Fortunately, with antibiotics, the early fullness resolved and I've been able to eat regular sized meals again. The source of the remaining symptoms though continue to be uncertain - perhaps it's a combination or maybe it's not. Only time may tell as the course of the antibiotics and my menstruation ended simultaneously.

With the completion of the antibiotics, I'm scheduled for a follow up appointment in another three months. We shall see what happens with my symptoms over the course of the next three months. 

4 comments:

  1. I don't have your illnesses, but my Lupus, Sjögren's and whatnot does flare before my period, too. And like you say, it's not quite different, but more like exacerbated. So in my case, I get even more full body aches and inflammation. Not fun being a woman, sometimes ;)

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    1. I feel ya, sometimes it is not enjoyable. :/

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  2. When I did have my period it definitely flaired inflammation in everything up. At the time I had a great Gynacologist who told me she could do a uterine wall ablation if I was sure I didn't want any more children and that would most likely stop my period (and the hormonal changes along with it) thereby keeping my autoimmune disease more stable throughout the month. I jumped at it and am really glad I did. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. I no longer have a period and that has made things much easier in all sorts of ways!

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    1. I'm so glad you've found relief, I've heard really good things about ablations

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