Living with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (and Without a Gallbladder)

I have lived almost my whole life struggling with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and have also had my gallbladder removed (at age 22). I have referenced my stomach issues before, but today I’m sharing the long version, in hopes of helping anyone dealing with similar issues. I am not a doctor, but am simply sharing my story and true experiences.

Living with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Without a Gallbladder

Living with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (and Without a Gallbladder)

How It All Began

When I was around six or seven years old, my stomach began to hurt on a daily basis. It was a dull ache, but it was never “normal”. Additionally, I would have episodes where my stomach would hurt so bad that I couldn’t breathe. It physically hurt to take a breath. It hurt to talk. The pain was utterly excruciating. It was (and is) like a strong burning sensation; almost like I can feel something moving through my digestive system. Sometimes, it was so bad, that to take my mind off of the stomach pain, I would scratch my thighs with my nails. It would often get to the point that I would leave the restroom with such horrible leg scratches that you’d think I’d been attacked by an animal. I now know that causing pain to one part of the body doesn’t take away from the other… six year old me didn’t know any better!

In addition to these episodes, I had other instances (and still do) where the pain was sharp. It would cause my stomach to feel bloated like a balloon (although it didn’t look like it), and would shoot to my ribs. It hurt to stand up straight, so I’d walk keeled over. The only thing that made it feel better, was to lie down.

Both of these episodes occurred on a regular basis, but on a sporadic, regular basis. I never knew when it would happen. No type of food would upset my stomach every time I consumed it. Some nights I could have some ice cream and be perfectly fine, and other nights I would end up gripping my quad and gasping for air in pain.

So began my life with Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

At the time, me nor my parents had any idea what was going on.

The Diagnosis

It wasn’t until we moved from Tennessee to Florida that we got some answers. I had been complaining, daily, of stomach pains. They kept me up at night. These pains were dull, but they were uncomfortable. So uncomfortable, that they were unbearable (if that makes sense). This was all on top of the sporadic yet regularly occurring painful episodes I was experiencing. I was known among my friends for being the one with the stomach issues. It’d gotten bad.

My mom took me in to see my pediatrician, who sent me to the hospital for testing. I was in the hospital for almost a week getting every test done under the sun.

The final diagnosis? Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Also known as, your stomach hates you and we can’t find any answers so let’s call it IBS.

Kidding…but seriously.

I was sad to hear that this was something I had to live with, but was relieved to have an answer, and to be given some medication (that ended up doing nothing).

When I was younger, the IBS was bad. I mean, really bad. However, as I’ve gotten older, it has significantly improved. I believe a lot of it has to do with stress, hormones, and of course, diet and exercise. However, I do still experience sporadic episodes. Usually, of course, at the worst times. Like, at the airport right before a flight boards (this happened) or at a boyfriends house (yup). Hi, Christian!

So, IBS improves. Yay! All fine and dandy, until my senior year of college…

Let me give you the back story.

The Gallbladder Chronicles

I have insane period cramps. Horrible PMS two weeks before that time of the month. Yadda yadda, you know the deal. So, while I was a junior in college, I went to a gynecologist in Gainesville who prescribed me birth control to help with these issues. The first pill she prescribed me made me go literally insane. I was a raging biatch, felt depressed, and would randomly spend hours in my room crying. I am not kidding – birth control is no joke!

I went back to her, complaining of the crazy, and she prescribed a different pill. This time, no crazy.

However, it left me with a little bit of stomach discomfort. Not much, and I’d assumed it was my body getting acclimated to the pill, so I ignored it. Soon, it pretty much subsided. I felt okay, and had gotten used to the pill. Until I wasn’t.

The Fall semester of my senior year, I was laying in bed at my apartment about to get up and go to my internship. All of a sudden, a sharp, severe pain appeared in my upper, right rib cage that shot to my back. My stomach blew up like a balloon, and no position I laid in could make it go away. This pain was so bad, I was rolling around in my bed crying. I emailed the company I was interning for and let them know what was going on. The pain lasted about three hours.

After this episode, I was fine. Then, two weeks later, it happened again. And again, lasted for about three hours.

A few more times, and I finally saw a doctor in town. To make this story short, I saw my gynecologist (asking if the birth control had anything to do with this), saw a general practitioner a few times, and finally, a gastroenterologist. The gastroenterologist listened to my list of symptoms, and hinted at the idea of gallbladder dysfunction or gallstones.

The testing began.

Living with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (and Without a Gallbladder)

Countless Tests, Zero Answers

First, I went in for a hepatobiliary scan which tests your gallbladder function. During the scan, the technician injects you with a radioactive tracer that flows through your gallbladder. Everything was fine, I felt okay, until that tracer was sent through my system. Immediately, like the flick of a switch, I felt painfully sick. I thought I was going to vomit, while simultaneously feeling like I was about to faint. It was awful. I asked the technician if this was normal, and they said yes.

Next up were the colonoscopy (don’t get me started on that preparation), endoscopy, gastric emptying test (also known as the egg and toast test), and a few others. Additionally, I was told to try the GERDdiet, the FODMAP diet, and was given Omeprazole (Prilosec) to take regularly. None of these did the trick. Additionally, I should mention – I saw absolutely no pattern between the pain and my diet. It was completely random, just like my IBS.

After two months of doctor visits, two ER visits, and countless tests, every single test came out negative. Every time I received my test results, I was told that nothing was wrong with me. Or that I was probably just “stressed”.

I was convinced that something was up, despite the test results. I began researching (probably not the best idea). Every single thing that I was feeling, was the definition of gallbladder dysfunction, to the T. I didn’t know what to do – nothing is more frustrating than being in excruciating pain and having technology tell you nothing is wrong.

The Surgery

Finally, one night I was hanging out at Christian’s, and the pain came back. This time, it was worse than it had ever been. I cannot put into words how bad it was. I was bawling, sobbing in pain. Poor Christian didn’t know what to do. I called my mom, as one does, and her and my father offered to drive up to Gainesville the next day and take me to the GI. Lucky girl, I am.

We marched into the doctor’s office, and I told him all about the episode I’d had the night before. He asked me to back track with my symptoms and all of the tests I’d taken. We went over and over, detailing everything. At one point, I said “I’m not sure if this matters, but during my HP Scan (hipatobiliary scan), when they injected the CCK tracer, I immediately felt nauseous, weak, and faint.”

“You did?! That gallbladder is coming out!” he said.

Remember when I’d asked the medical technician if the way I felt was normal upon being injected? Yeah… it’s not. Apparently, that is a tell-tale sign that your gallbladder is dysfunctional, and needs to be removed.

As you could have guessed, I made an appointment for an outpatient procedure, and had my gallbladder laparoscopically removed.

Living with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (and Without a Gallbladder)

Thank God for Christian during this process. He was my rock! He even kept me busy during recovery, taking me to the movies and to make pottery! 

Gallbladder surgery is described as a routine surgery, but let me tell you, recovery was miserable. Despite it being a laparoscopic surgery (two baby incisions: one above your belly button, and one on the bottom right of your abdomen), it was really difficult to deal with post-op. During laparoscopic surgery, they fill your abdomen with CO2, which gives you horrible gas pains afterwards. I would wake up in the middle of the night with severe pain in my shoulders from the CO2. It hurt to laugh, to walk, to stand up straight. The stuff they don’t tell ya, people.

Why Did This Happen?

So, where does birth control come into play?

While all of this craziness was going on, my father was in constant communication with his brother, who is a doctor. Without having any idea that I was on the pill, he asked my dad “is she by any chance taking birth control? Gallbladder dysfunction is a possible side effect of the pill. It’s rare, but it’s possible.” Gallbladder dysfunction is very rare in people my age and build, so he was thinking outside the box as to why this was happening.

To this day, I am convinced that I was one of the 2% of people that experience gallbladder disorder as a side effect of the pill.

And, funny story… At the end of last year, I visited my local OBGYN to request a low dose BC pill to help with my cramps while I was training for a half marathon. I explained to her my fears of getting back on the pill, and asked her to please put me on the lowest dose possible.

She’d asked me how large of a dose I’d been on with my last pill, which I wasn’t sure of. She went and retrieved my file, only to see that I had been taking 35mg. “35mg?! It’s rare to give someone over 20!” she exclaimed. I’m obviously not a doctor, but I have a feeling that that high of a dose could have had something to do with it…

Another funny story… The biopsy of my gallbladder showed no signs of dysfunction. #missionimpossible

The End Result

While my gallbladder seemed to have no issue, the painful episodes I was experiencing are gone.

However, having no gallbladder is no walk in the park when it’s combined with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, at least for me. Your gallbladder stores bile that is produced by your liver, which helps digest fats. As a result of me not having mine, my body does not digest fats well. In fact, when I eat anything fried, or with butter, or just generally unhealthy fats (I can eat olive oil, coconut oil, peanut butter, and generally healthy fats just fine), the miserable stomach aches I experienced when I was younger come back.

With all of that said, I’ve learned how to form a diet and lifestyle around this. I eat mostly whole foods, I stay away from dairy, I don’t eat anything like full-fat cream, butter, fried foods (okay, sometimes I slip up… because Chic-fil-A waffle fries), and have learned to navigate my way around food. I still eat what I enjoy, and trust me, at times I eat thingds that I know may upset my stomach because #YOLO, but overall, I’ve made it a habit to stay away from a list of foods.

Living with IBS on a daily basis comes with a combination of things, one being bloating. Lots and lots of bloating. I’ve learned to live with it, but as someone who once dealt with orthorexia and body image issues, it can be pretty difficult to look in the mirror and not be frustrated. No matter how hard I try, the bloat seems to linger. I have found ways to aid this issue (drinking lots of water helps!), and have tried everything (seriously, everything)… I’ve just got to accept it! *shrug*

This might sound weird, but dealing with these issues for so long has truly made me stronger. I believe in that phrase, “pain is just weakness leaving the body” – I have learned to work through pain, and it has made me mentally stronger, as well. It can often feel like the current state you’re in is never going to leave, but talking yourself through the pain can make a world of a difference. To anyone reading this dealing with the same issues, I salute you. Maybe we should start a club or something.

Join the conversation

If you are a fellow IBSer, or just generally live with digestive issues, I’d love to hear from you! What has your experience been? What have you found causes your discomfort, and how have you worked your way around it?

The Ultimate Guide to Breakfast On-The-Go

Comments

  1. says

    As we’ve discussed many times, I know how you feel (minus the lack of gallbladder…I’ve still got one of those). The eggs and toast test led to a diagnosis of gastroparesis for me, which makes sense (delayed gastric emptying…aka pain a few hours after eating), but the solutions are not conclusive. Managing my symptoms, while slowly getting to the root of the issues, seems to be my best bet. The pain bothers me more than the bloating but I’d love for both to go away completely!
    Emily @ My Healthyish Life recently posted…Recent Meals + WeekendMy Profile

  2. says

    I love that you shared this!!! I’ve always had slight stomach issues and I have to be really careful how much I indulge, especially as I get older. AKA, my trip to Italy this year was tough, haha! Love that you’re finding what works for you!!!

    • says

      Lol oh no!! I was actually so terrified when I went to Italy because around that time I was still gluten-free (I did that for a year), and I ended up having zero stomach problems in Italy no matter what I ate. I wonder if it had anything to do with the fact that I was on vacation and not stressed + the quality of their food is better.
      The Blissful Balance recently posted…Coconut Oil Rice Krispie TreatsMy Profile

  3. says

    Oh, girl! Reading this was giving me flashbacks of my life from March 2007 – June 2008. While not on the IBS route, it’s in the same vain of organ removal. Haha. One morning, that March, I woke up around 5 a.m. with a pain so sharp in my lower left ribcage, near my solar plexus. I was terrified, but after 30 minutes, the pain subsided, and I thought I had a horrible gas pain, in hindsight. My day went on, nothing happened, and tra la la. I went on with life. About a month later, the pain returned, but, again, it was gone as quick as it came. As the months went on, I kept getting the pain more and more, and it was more dull yet lasted longer back then,; working at a job without health insurance made me apprehensive to go to a doctor. I went on a trip to Austria in November 2007 with my college as an alumna member of their choral group; as I toured the country singing, I had a stash of IcyHot pads I kept affixing to my torso. In February 2008, I finally got insurance at work (YAY!), and I got to a doctor as fast as I could. They ran some blood tests, and all of my organs functioned normally. I explained the pain under my ribs (my upper left quadrant, as they called it), and she told me to take anti-inflammatory meds. Come mid-May, I went back, still in pain. Blood tests showed no organ issues, still, but she sent me to the local hospital to get a scan. Low and behold: I had a benign football-sized tumor growing inside of my spleen! Long story short: I had my spleen and its tumor removed 3 weeks later in NYC. It was 12 pounds! I still affectionately refer to it as my “Spleen Baby”. Ha! But…why? They still don’t know. I did take a spill while hiking in October of 2006 in the Catskill Mountains; they think I might have injured my spleen then, and a hemangioma formed that just kept filling with blood and fluid. They didn’t have a concrete answer, however. I’m a concrete person, so it kind of bothered me that I didn’t have a true answer. Ha! So I feel you on that point as well. I can assume, but I don’t know for sure. I’ve had my on little health issues due to not having a spleen either; I sure get a lot more colds and was almost hospitalized two years ago with tonsillitis and a three day 103 degree fever. Lack of spleen causes one to be immunocompromised; you best believe I get my flu and pneumonia shots!

    I feel that I rambled on for WAY too long, haha, but thank you for sharing your story. I always enjoy coming across people that I can relate to in this way. <3
    Allison recently posted…Sautéed Zucchini & Tomatoes with BasilMy Profile

    • says

      FOOTBALL SIZED?!? Oh my gosh – you are a trooper. So glad you were able to get it figured out (sort of) and removed. Sorry you have to deal with that :( what a story!! Thank you so much for sharing!

  4. says

    I also have IBS–but mine started during my first year of college. A lot of changes and stress were happening in my life then (my first relationship, schoolwork, a friend’s death in a car accident, my eating disorder, starting BC for my funky period) and I think that all of those things contributed a little bit. It’s hard to tell exactly when or why it started, and so it’s hard to manage!

    Also, LOL to “we can’t find any answers so let’s call it IBS.” Yup, that’s pretty much what that diagnosis means! I love your positive outlook–I get so frustrated with my digestion sometimes and really need to try on the positive side more.
    Claire @ My Pink & Green Life recently posted…5 Books about the Food Industry You Need to ReadMy Profile

    • says

      I truly believe that a huge chunk of IBS has to do with stress/cortisol levels. Just because it seems to flare up during stressful times, but I am an anxious person and have always suffered from anxiety, so having IBS like regularly I think could be from that. WHO KNOWS hahah even the doctors seem to not know so oh well!! I’ll just have to always carry around my Pepto lmao. Thanks girl <3
      The Blissful Balance recently posted…Coconut Oil Rice Krispie TreatsMy Profile

  5. says

    Living with this kind of pain is something I think more people than you’d realize just do every day. Growing up, my parents and friends just thought I was a sickly kid because I had intense stomach aches often, sometimes accompanied by headaches and nausea. When I was finally diagnosed with Celiacs some of it subsided with cutting out gluten, but not all of it – and figuring out how to deal with the pain that sometimes recurs and the type of discomfort and bloating that’s still more prevalent than I’d like is an ongoing process.
    Alyssa @ Renaissancerunnergirl recently posted…Weekly Workouts and Updates 7/18-7/24My Profile

    • says

      Soo many people in America deal with stomach issues. It’s sad. I have a friend that has Chron’s and she has seriously been through hell. I was saying to someone else that when I went to Italy I had zero stomach problems (despite my usual issues just from traveling), and I think it was because of the quality of food. Even the ‘junk food’, like packaged foods I had there were totally fine with my stomach.
      The Blissful Balance recently posted…Coconut Oil Rice Krispie TreatsMy Profile

  6. says

    I`m so sorry you had to go through (and still go through!) all those issues. I actually had my gall bladder removed at the same age. I remember getting the terrible pain and I called an ambulance (my second time calling for the pain) and the paramedic tried to convince my I was having bad cramps. Um, no I wasn`t. Both times I went to the hospital they let me sit in pain and then sent me on my way. Finally, after tests at my family doctor they told me the gall bladder needed to come out. Now, I don`t get any pains like that anymore, but it`s a terrible experience to go through for sure.
    Liselle @ Lunch-Time Librarian recently posted…What Alice Forgot Book Review – Lemon Meringue and Lost MemoriesMy Profile

    • says

      OMG it is so horrible!! I went to the ER twice by myself (that’s when you know it’s bad!!) and like you said they let me sit there keeled over crying, and by the time they saw me the pain was gone so there was nothing to see! So ridiculous (and ahem, expensive!). I’m so sorry you went through that, too. Did you ever find out what was wrong?? Was it gallstones?
      The Blissful Balance recently posted…Coconut Oil Rice Krispie TreatsMy Profile

      • says

        That was me every single time I went to the ER. Sitting there in pain and then by the time the doctor comes they just send you home. Thankfully, I’m in Canada and so I didn’t have to pay anything for those visits. One hospital wanted me to pay an ambulence fee because it wasn’t a ‘real’ emergency. But they never followed through. Yep it was gall stones. I got it removed and everything has been perfect since.

  7. says

    Ahhhhh I am so sorry you had to go through all of that! I can relate so much to this. I’ve had intense bloating/stomach pains pretty much my whole life, and I know how frustrating it is just to be “diagnosed” with IBS. I definitely don’t consider it a diagnosis. Birth control also caused me a bunch of stomach problems as well, and I just recently went off. Have you been tested for bacterial overgrowths like Candida, SIBO, etc.? I know for me, that contributed to a lot of the bloating. I found out I had Candida, SIBO, and 4 other bacterial overgrowths, and treating those has helped a lot with my bloating and stomach pains. It makes me feel better to hear that low FODMAP didn’t work for you either – my doctor had me try it for about 2 months and I have never been so miserable in my life. My stomach pains, indigestion, and bloating were actually worse than ever before. The one thing that has worked for me is SCD…I’ve been following it for a few months now and I’ve never felt better. My stomach is still testy and I have to watch what I eat, but for the first time I’m not in constant pain.

      • says

        SCD stand for Specific Carbohydrate Diet. It basically limits the types of carbohydrates you can eat, so it’s grain-free and also takes out certain high-starch carbs like sweet potatoes, yams, taro, plantains. I hate to give up sweet potato but I’ve noticed a huge difference. Some other things that have helped monumentally with my stomach are collagen, glutamine, and colostrum. I’m going to start a whole series on how I’ve been fixing my leaking gut on my blog soon if you’re interested!
        Christina Rice recently posted…The Best Eyeshadow Palettes in the GameMy Profile

  8. says

    This post really spoke to me Christina, and everyday, I do struggle with some bowel issues (not sure it’s IBS), but this took my eyes off of self pity, and I definitely want to pray for you more. I didn’t realize that you suffer from these things and have on a daily basis. You bear the trial with such grace that no one would ever know unless you told them. I’m thankful that you opened up and wrote this all out. Reading through it was like reading and coming to appreciate more and more this vulnerable, truthful, loving community of bloggers that we’ve been blessed with, and you are one of those. <3
    Emily recently posted…Ellie’s Story: From Skinny to FreedomMy Profile

  9. says

    It really is refreshing to hear about someone with a story *kind of* like mine. While I haven’t had my gallbladder removed, I have had my fair share of mysterious stomach pain. It would come and go with no apparent cause (the sharp pain where the only that that relieves it is to bend over as far as you can and hope that you can get to sleep and wake up with no pain), but when we moved out to Colorado 2 years ago I was getting this pain 1-2 times a week and it was seriously affecting my life. I didn’t want to leave the house, I wasn’t feeling well, etc. I went to the doctor and was also “diagnosed” with IBS and possibly SIBO. My doctor wouldn’t give me a test for SIBO but did give me antibiotics to deal with it. I can’t say that the antibiotics did or did not help. Now, I follow a mostly low FODMAP diet and feel much better but still not 100%. It’s like if I eat ANYTHING out of the normal usually, I blow up like a balloon and feel super uncomfortable and don’t’ go to the bathroom for days. Then there is the 5% chance that I eat something out of the ordinary (traditional cookies during christmas, etc) and I feel totally fine afterward…it’s frustrating and confusing, but the sharp stomach pain frequency has GREATLY reduced so I’m happy with that. I think there are tons of people dealing with issues similar to ours, and it’s so important to keep the conversation going. Here’s to figuring out and dealing with stomach issues!
    Tara | Treble in the Kitchen recently posted…Weekend in Breckenridge: A Welcome Break from RoutineMy Profile

  10. says

    I am a fellow IBSer, and totally get the frusteration you have. The meds I was put on did nothing and it sucks to just kinda have to deal with it. I was on miralax for a while, but went off of it because I didn’t want to rely on that for the rest of my life. I’m on a digestive enzyme and I take papaya which does help for me. I’m on the constipation end of IBS which is a pain, but I really just try to not focus on it too much (easier said than done haha). Thanks for sharing your story girl!! You are so strong <3
    Alyssa recently posted…Day in the life Video: 7/25/16My Profile

    • says

      I am on that end of it too, though occasionally it goes the other way too lol but it seriously is frustrating, it makes you feel so heavy and like theres a big rock weighing you down (literally). I just try to keep foods in my diet that are good for that like papaya, mango, oatmeal, chia seeds, etc. Coffee helps me a lot too. Thanks so much for reading best of luck with your tummy!! <3
      The Blissful Balance recently posted…Coconut Oil Rice Krispie TreatsMy Profile

  11. says

    Wow Christina, you have been through so much! I admire your strength with this. Your story really goes to show that you have to be your own medical advocate, because no one knows your body better than you!
    Sarah recently posted…Top 3 Friday #2My Profile

  12. Lindsay says

    I have dealt with IBS for years as well, but it is definitely worse when I am stressed, when I’m on the pill, and around that time of the month. (Gah hormones are cruel little boogers!) Strangely, for a couple of years if I would eat a banana I would get intense stomach pain and bloating later in the day. The sharp stabbing kind you described where you have to lie down. My doctor said I have a “spastic colon”, which made sense based on how I was feeling. The same thing was true about pizza. I didn’t eat pizza for 5 years b/c it hurt so bad. Now that my diet has improved overall, I find that I can tolerate these foods in moderation. I also take a probiotic each day that is specifically for my symptoms (Jarrow Formulas Ideal Bowel Support) and a daily dose of hydrolyzed collagen. These have helped tremendously, with the bloating/pain and with keeping me regular (there was a period when I didn’t go for nearly 3 months!). I hope you find a way to eliminate your daily discomfort. You are so strong for dealing with it as you have and for sharing your story!

    • says

      Mine starts acting up two weeks before my period, during my period, and then it goes away the week after. So basically 1 week out of every month I have a normal digestive system lol and I am convinced that the birth control screwed me up because it was never like this before that damn pill. I should try collagen I have some powder here I haven’t tried yet and I had no idea it could be good for the digestive system! Thanks girl!
      The Blissful Balance recently posted…Coconut Oil Rice Krispie TreatsMy Profile

  13. says

    Hey girl, loved reading your story. About 5 years ago I started having serious lower belly pains and would feel so nauseous. I was convinced something was seriously wrong with me and went through the blood tests and it was decided I had “IBS” aka we don’t know but yeah. I don’t really get the pains much any more-maybe it was linked to crappier eating and more stress? But I definitely easily get bloated, have irregular bowel movements, and lots of gas. I haven’t pinpointed it to certain foods besides lots of beer and fried/crappy foods upsetting me a lot but it definitely flares up when I’m stressed and around that time of the month. What a weird mystery. I just wrote a little bit about it and how I use probiotics to attempt to try to help.

  14. says

    Umm, holy cow!! So glad you are feeling better and that the doctor knew what to do. I have had a lot of stomach problems resulting from stress and a major gluten intolerance. Thankful that there are solutions and lots of gluten-free products in the market right now!!! Probiotics are also the bomb.

  15. says

    Oh My God, How much is this horrible for you when you are suffering from this disease? I am so worried when I feel little bit stomach ache but you have suffered from this so much big disease. Hat’s of to you. You are so brave.

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