Gut Health Update: Colon Cleanse + My First Endoscopy

Disclaimer: This post is my personal experience and is NOT intended as medical advice in any way. I am not a doctor, so please consult with a medical professional if you have any concerns about your overall health and take what I say with a grain of salt!

I’ve been on quite the journey since my last gut health update – and wow, what a journey it’s been. I’ve seen two different gastroenterologists, embarked on a colon cleanse and even had my small intestine biopsied to test for celiac disease. (Yes, that again.)

I’d be lying if I said that having my stomach pinched, poked and prodded by doctors and scopes all the time wasn’t stressful. But, I don’t regret it at all. Because of what I’ve survived this year, we’ve discovered that I almost certainly have IBS, relieving my worries that my gut health issues could be due to something more sinister than a spastic colon.

Since relocating to Cleveland, I’ve been receiving the bulk of my care at North Shore Gastroenterology under Dr. Mohamed Naem. Dr. Naem has done more for my colon health in one month than all of my previous doctors put together – but that doesn’t mean that my big move hasn’t been littered with challenges for my gut and mental health alike.

Below, I write about undergoing a colon cleanse, getting my first endoscopy and all the treatments, medications and procedures that led me to this point. Most importantly, I write about how they made me feel – because as we IBS patients know, our emotions are half the battle when it comes to our gut.

Before the Big Move

Back in Boston, I finally got into a gastroenterologist’s office at Boston Medical Center. I was impressed with the quality of care I received, but disappointed that my testing failed to reveal answers to what might be making me sick.

At that point. I had already been to an emergency room in Erie, PA while visiting with my boyfriend on winter break. I also visited an NP in Cleveland, Cheryl Brinley, who ordered a CT scan that failed to reveal anything (though we did discover a severe vitamin D deficiency that could be contributing to my low mood through the winter months).

My doctors at BMC ordered a fecal calprotectin test as an alternative to doing a colonoscopy, since it is essentially just as accurate and far less invasive than a scope. The test required me to provide a stool sample to the lab, who analyzed it for markers of inflammation.

This measurement told them with some certainty that I did NOT have IBD. Regardless, I still felt doubtful. My doctors took my symptoms seriously, but my results certainly did not alleviate my anxieties about my gut health. So, when I came to Cleveland, I decided to get in with a gastroenterologist ASAP – not only to establish care in my new city, but also to hopefully find some answers once-and-for-all.

The Colon Cleanse

Upon visiting Dr. Naem for the first time, he immediately suspected IBS-C – the C standing for “constipation type.” Despite the fact that I’d suffered from diarrhea in the past, my doctor suggested that this may have been “overflow diarrhea” from an underlying problem of constipation.

I finally had my answers – but what was a girl to do about them? According to Dr. Naem, it was time to flush out my colon and start over with an empty gut. And that meant laxatives. Lots and lots of laxatives.

For the cleanse, I purchased a bottle of magnesium citrate, which I’d been instructed to drink alongside two Dulcolax tablets to help flush out my colon. It only took about 90 minutes before I began to experience the symptoms of these laxatives.

The results lasted about 48 hours before my gut finally began to calm down and return to normal. But, arguably, my colon has been at its most “regular” since before I suffered from IBS at all.

After the cleanse, my doctor instructed me to begin mixing a capful of Miralax into a drink – my morning coffee, he suggested, though I’ve since begun to drink it with Gatorade so as not to ruin the sacred experience of coffee – each and every day. This practice has maintained the results of my colon cleanse for the past 2-3 weeks, and produced a radical difference in the quality and frequency of my bowel movements.

As I understand it, colon cleansing is a controversial topic in the medical field. While I don’t recommend you perform a colon cleanse without first talking to a qualified professional, I can certainly attest that my colon cleanse worked wonders for my IBS.

Frustrated gastro patients will try anything once – and for all the evidence behind the low FODMAP diet, this simple bowel regimen worked much better for me!

My First Endoscopy

Only, there was a catch: thanks to a twist of events in my gut health journey, I could no longer rule out celiac disease, despite previous tests that showed my IgA and IgG antibodies were normal.

My mom’s doctor began to suspect celiac disease in her, leading me to seek out the advice of a gastroenterologist as to whether I should be worried about my own gut health. Initial test results did not show evidence of celiac, but they did show that I was at high genetic risk, which could only mean one thing: my diagnosis (or lack thereof) must be confirmed via upper endoscopy.

Needless to say, I was terrified. Who wouldn’t be afraid of gagging in front of your doctor – or worse, experiencing the awkward discomfort of having a tube placed in your esophagus? In my case, I was most afraid of undergoing anesthesia, which I’d never done before – and, quite frankly, never expected to need to, outside of the standard wisdom tooth removal all my friends had undergone as teenagers.

To make matters worse, my endoscopy was scheduled far in advance, giving me plenty of time to worry prior to the procedure. The night before, I watched tons of YouTube videos to prepare myself for what to expect. I also could not eat for eight hours and could not drink for four hours prior to the scope.

When I arrived at the hospital, it took about an hour after my scheduled appointment time before the nurse called my name. Once she did, however, the procedure moved quickly. As usual, they took my height, weight, blood pressure and pulse. Then, they had me change into a gown and lie down on a bed.

As they placed IV fluids in my arm, I was so anxious that I began to quiver in fear – but the two nurses by my bedside did an extraordinary job talking me down and reassuring me that the process would be simple and painless.Then, it was go-time: the nurses wheeled my bed into the endoscopy room.

There, I got to quickly wave hello to my doctor and meet the NP who would be handling the anesthetic before being asked to roll onto my left side for the procedure. I barely remember anything past the NP inserting the anesthetic into my IV and the nurses asking me to bite down on a mouthpiece that would be used to insert the tube down my throat.

The next thing I knew, I had woken up in the recovery room with my boyfriend waiting by my bedside. Dr. Naem came to tell us that he had not found evidence of celiac and was 99% certain I did not have it – though technically, we had to wait for the biopsy results before we could be sure. (In fact, just yesterday, I received my results confirming I definitely do NOT have celiac disease!)

For the hour after the procedure, I felt a little woozy. David took me to get a milkshake, which I eagerly devoured. After that, I lost my appetite for most of the afternoon. About two hours later, the numbing anesthetic wore off and my throat began to kill. Luckily, the pain only lasted about a day. But, overall, the procedure was quick, relatively painless and more than worth it to relieve my anxiety and definitively rule out a diagnosis of celiac disease.

Gut Health Products + Resources

As usual, I’ll end this post on a positive note by sharing some of the products that helped me get through this stage of my gut health journey. Once again, I’ll share links so you can purchase some of the staples that saved my life (metaphorically, of course) during my experience with IBS!

  • Suja Digestive Wellness Shot. ($50 for 15, Suja Juice) When I recommend this shot, I do not recommend it for the taste! The shot contains a spicy burst of cayenne pepper, so it burns the whole way down (and trust me when I say, cayenne and pineapple juice make a horrible combination). That being said, these shots got my digestive system M-O-V-I-N-G! When your gut goes stagnant and you need to kick-start your metabolism again, I highly recommend these shots as a quick fix for your gut health woes. Just treat them like medicine, rather than a drink, and you’ll be fine. (My tip: they’re called shots for a reason – so pinch your nose and suck it up, buttercup! The faster you can throw it down, the easier the recovery.)
  • Robyn Youkilis’s Guide to Magical Digestion. (Free with Email) I’m not one for impractical, woo-woo wellness tips – but when a gut health practitioner shares evidence-based advice, I find it best to listen! Robyn’s free guide is full of common-sense tips you may not have thought of (for example, when’s the last time you paid attention to how thoroughly you’re chewing?). Robyn shares a delicious recipe for an aloe vera shot for soothing an angry, inflamed digestive tract. (And, for my fellow ED recovery warriors, I especially love that she points out that “I’m bloated” is often used as a synonym for “I feel fat,” expressing discomfort with our bodies rather than physical pain.)
  • The FODMAP Friendly Kitchen by Emma Hatcher. ($20, Amazon) I discovered this delicious cookbook of low-FODMAP recipes at my local library. Since I recently quit being vegan (post on that later), I appreciated the reintroduction to the vast variety of things one can enjoy on an IBS-friendly diet! My favorite recipe? Polenta with Burst Tomatoes and Mozzarella, which reminds me of my childhood spent frying polenta with my Polish-Italian Mom and Grandma. Mmm, mmm, mmm!
  • Rao’s Homemade Sensitive Formula Marinara Sauce. ($9, Rao’s) I finally splurged for the $9 jar of marinara that everyone with IBS has been talking about – and man, was it worth it. Quick, easy meals are hard to come by when you typically can’t eat anything that comes out of a box. Luckily, Rao’s Sensitive Formula is made without onion or garlic: two of the worst offenders when it comes to sneaky high-FODMAP ingredients! Mix it into some gluten-free pasta with parmesan or spread on a gluten-free pizza crust for a simple dish your whole family will appreciate.
  • Nature’s Fusions advanCBD Tincture in Mixed Berry. ($40, Nature’s Fusions) Before accepting my new job, I was a brand ambassador for Nature’s Fusions – and I can honestly say that their mixed berry flavored CBD tincture is 100% pure, THC-free and delicious! Though I take CBD for my anxiety, those of us with IBS know that the two often go hand-in-hand. In the event that your stress causes an IBS flareup, a couple drops of this edible CBD tincture will help your racing mind calm down naturally.