I decided to write about this topic as it is something I feel very passionate about. It is one that is close to home, having dealt with numerous ‘incurable’ conditions myself. Over the past few years, I have taken a closer look at my health from all angles. Having been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and more recently polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), I struggled mentally and physically as a result. One thing that irritates me still is the blasé attitude towards ‘treating’ these conditions – prescribe a drug, masking the symptoms. Don’t get me wrong, doctors are great, and I have witnessed what they do first hand, on a daily basis. They are amazing, passionate and highly intelligent human beings. The pressing issue I feel is that the ‘incurable’ conditions tend to get pushed to one side and not taken seriously. It is not entirely any one doctors fault, rather the foundations on which they practice. I accept the classical argument that there is a need to prescribe a drug due to patient safety. For example, take a patient with high cholesterol. The practitioner may preach the need for a lifestyle revamp to the patient, but they both know that probably won’t happen and so, a tablet is prescribed.
I have spoken to many young women and one thing I cannot wrap my head around is the prevalence of unexplainable symptoms amongst them. Symptoms include, but are certainly not limited to, acne, cramps, bloating, constipation, amenorrhea (loss of period), anxiety, depressive symptoms and so on. These symptoms are becoming the norm as on paper there is nothing necessarily ‘wrong’ with them, but can you honestly tell me that discomfort and pain is normal?
A close friend recently said to me that perhaps being diagnosed with IBS was a blessing in disguise. This is something that really resonated with me, as she was completely right. Since my diagnosis with IBS, I have gone through trial and error in terms of diet and exercise styles – overall with the aim to improve my health. I did however, play the role of the teenage girl undereating, over-exercising and body-shaming myself. My intentions when I started out on this journey to better health were things like looking better in a bikini and keeping up with my peers. Just like every other girl will go through at some point, eventually finding their way back to focus on simply being the best version of themselves. It wasn’t until I began to realise this, that I began to focus purely on me. I began to accept my condition and research how to improve myself.
I had little to no help from doctors and was prescribed ‘medication’ for my type of IBS. I will save the details to the can of worms that prescription opened, but I will say one thing. It caused further, more intense issues both physically and mentally, something that took a long time to overcome. My diet, lifestyle and psychological state were never discussed. Never. This is something that still, to this day, deeply angers me. Four years of educating myself through websites, books and papers has taught me that these three aspects, are some of the fundamentals to the development and management of the condition (note: the gut microbiome plays a central role too). The more I learn, the more I realise that these aspects are not limited to IBS. They are relevant to many other conditions such as the development of amenorrhea – something that is very common and often misdiagnosed as PCOS. Again, the simple solution offered here is to mask the symptoms with the contraceptive pill, rather than getting to the root of the problem. The prevalence of amenorrhea and PCOS has increased in recent years and something I have asked myself is why? Why are these ‘incurable’ conditions on the rise? Why are these conditions becoming the norm? Everywhere I look there is a new Instagram post on accepting our bodies and practicing self-love, accompanied by a picture of a bloated stomach, acne, or a caption describing their mental health. Don’t get me wrong, we should all be accepting our bodies and being more kind to ourselves, but why do so many young women battle with themselves regularly, when these things are almost considered normal?
My point? Greater consideration should be taken when any medication is prescribed, as it isn’t always the answer. There is a need for a holistic approach for tackling conditions like IBS, PCOS and the ‘unexplainable’ symptoms that are so common in many young women these days. There is a need for a movement towards improving overall health in terms of nutrition, physical shape and psychological state. All aspects of a patients’ life should be investigated that little bit deeper, leading to a better understanding and a possible root cause of irregular symptoms.
From studying science, I have always wanted to know the ‘why’ behind everything (nerd life). Pair that with my interest in the human body and how everything we do in our daily lives can impact our health, or lack thereof. Food, stress, sleep, activity levels, gut flora – everything is related. I suppose you could say the above has ignited a passion within me, taking a closer look at this grey area. An area that very few want to address.