Why does my tummy hurt?

by Claire

Last Friday I met a friend for a short chat and shop session.
And my tummy started to hurt.

I have had an uncomfortable stomach since 2003 (and very possibly before that) but over the last year the pain has become more intense and frequent, and the bloating has become enormous and almost constant. Since the middle of last year I have done everything I can think of to help this. I don’t eat gluten /yeast (swollen, cramping pain) or onions/apples/raw tomatoes (sudden sharp, stabbing pain) or dairy (full, sick feeling). All accompanied by immense bloating. By avoiding these foods I can escape the worst impact, but my tummy is still often uncomfortably bloated and occasionally painful, with no cause that I can lay my finger on.

Unhappy tummy

Unhappy tummy

On Friday I had had it. I had done everything right; I was well-rested, I hadn’t eaten any of my trigger foods and I had done all my yoga and core exercises the previous day. But there it was, starting slowly; a dull ache that grew into a pain over a few hours and gradually got worse until I was unconsciously frowning, and worse until I was visibly uncomfortable and begging back-rubs to help ease the pain. Apart from wishing to avoid this uncomfortable pain, more than anything I just want a reason. Why does my tummy hurt?

• Could it have been the green tea I drank with my friend? But I have not noticed a reaction to green tea before.
• Could it have been the meal I ate earlier in the day? (about two and a half hours before the pain started) I sometimes do not chew very well, could this have just been regular indigestion?
• Was it the car trip for two hours? Either travel-sickness (but it was pain, not nausea/headache) or indigestion caused by the position I was reclining (napping) in?
• What about nerves? I get anxious before social engagements, but this is a friend that I am most comfortable with. I was hoping that I would be able to ‘go the distance’ and not fritz-out with brain fog and get slow and stupid and confused. (More concerned with my disappointment at missing out on friend time than her reaction, she’s the sort of friend I can turn to and tell her when my energy levels/brain is failing.)
• Could I have an ulcer? Wouldn’t that be more painful and constant than this?
• What about allergies? Was there something in the shopping centre that I was allergic to that gives me a sore stomach?
• Was I hungry? I don’t really recognise hunger properly. It is my least-endearing trait that three bites into most meals I will exclaim with surprise ‘I didn’t know I was so hungry!’ But the pain escalated over dinner and then slowly subsided over the next 24 hours.

Thank you for indulging me in this whinge-fest. But I do have a larger point than expressing my minor gripes. So often the symptoms of CFS are vague and difficult to relate to a ‘trigger’. My own list of symptoms is long and no doctor has been able to tell me why my body is acting out like this. Some symptoms, like dizziness and instability have been explained by my dysautonomia. Others, like my sore throat and fibromyalgia clearly have a cause-effect relationship to post-exertional malaise but there is little to no information as to what causes them. Others, like my digestive issues, heart pain, and tingling in my right leg have no apparent explanation at all. Often these symptoms are not taken seriously either by doctors or the patients themselves. Compared to debilitating fatigue that prevents you from leaving the house, a sore stomach is trivial. I was struck by Val’s story on the Huffington Post recently. In such familiar circumstances she had a collection of odd symptoms; shortness of breath, migraines, digestive issues and more. But “rarely did any one symptom seem dire, so Val wrote them off to having a ‘quirky body’”. Even once a diagnosis of CFS has been made, there is a danger that any symptom can be lumped under the banner of CFS due to the mysterious/confusing nature of CFS and the fact that it has many symptoms that can present differently in each patient. In my own case it was only after pressing my doctor to investigate my collapses that my dysautonomia was diagnosed by a neurologist.

In the case of my uncomfortable stomach it is highly likely that it is connected with having CFS. Many medical journal articles comment on the prevalence of digestive issues in CFS and I don’t know of anyone in the CFS blogging community that hasn’t tried eliminating foods, or CoQ10, or probiotics/candida elimination/fermented foods to help ease their distressed stomachs. I am slowly trying different elimination diets and support protocols one by one. This is a long process and preliminary overview of the research available shows that there are many avenues being investigated that are only leading to more questions*. I don’t hold out much hope of finding a reason for my digestive issues, let alone a cure or prevention but I am determined to try. I hope this article has illustrated how frustrating, confusing and at times overwhelming it can be to have every bodily system corrupted by an insidious disease and not understand why.

* Gut inflammation in chronic fatigue syndrome, Gastric emptying is slow in chronic fatigue syndrome, Indication… for the presence of an increased gut-intestinal permeability, Chronic fatigue syndrome is associated with chronic enterovirus infection of the stomach