by Suzanne B. Stewart
One Summer day in 2002, a man ran through a red light and changed my life forever. I didn’t know what pain was until then, except for childbirth. After the MVA, I went through multiple surgeries, chronic intractable pain and then one medical issue/diagnosis after another. I now have an Autoimmune disease called “Combined Immune Deficiency”, which renders me unable to be a candidate for many surgical pain interventions. I have several pain illnesses such as: Systemic/full Body RSD/CRPS, Arnold Chiari I, Polyneuropathy in Collagen Vascular Disease (which is similar to EDS type 4/Vascular), Degenerative Disc Disease, Autonomic Neuropathy, Scoliosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis,Dysautonomia/POTS, CFS, Gastroparesis, Chronic kidney disease II, Chronic Erosive Gastritis, and there are more. I won’t bore you with the rest of the list because you get the idea! Except for the latest diagnosis that I’ve been given, puts the puzzle together for me in some ways.
Are you a chronic pain patient who has had IBS (Irritable Bowel syndrome) and much trouble with your stomach and digestion? Have you been diagnosed with Chronic fatigue? Do you have Fibromyalgia? How about Dysautonomia, POTS and EDS? Well, it took me several Gastroenterologist’s to actually find one that would truly listen to me. One who had knowledge of such things as CRPS and Dysautonomia and ANS failure. We all need to visit specialist after specialist, until finding one who truly listens. Luckily, the GI Dr.that I’ve found, is knowledgeable about CRPS and many of the pain illnesses that I have. He did many blood tests, EGD, colonoscopy and gastric emptying test. He gave me the diagnosis of chronic erosive Gastritis. He said “Do you see the CRPS lesions on your hands and legs/feet? That is what the inside of your stomach looks like.” Then in giving me the diagnosis of Gastroparesis he explained how my Dysautonomia most likely contributed to many things, including the next illness that I would be diagnosed with. I finally had answers and was so relieved to at least know what was going on inside of my body. But that was only part of the puzzle.
Next, he ordered a test for me, called a “SIBO” or “Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth” test. In the end, it shows if you have a chronic small intestinal bacterial infection or not. Most people have this test and it can last up to 3 hours. Mine was positive after only 20 minutes, because the numbers tripled during that time! I was given a positive diagnosis for “SIBO”, and then a couple of medications; including an antibiotic. They printed out an information sheet and made me a return visit appointment with the Dr. in a few weeks.
I actually rushed to my keyboards in order to share this information with my “pain friends” and the “pain community”. This is an important piece of the “puzzle” for many, I believe. I will try to explain this in the best way I know how, but you need to talk to your physician about it, in case it could be part of your puzzle. You see, we all have the “normal” bacteria in our GI tract. The small intestine not only plays an important role in digestion and getting the nutrients from our food, but it also plays a very big role in our immune system and fighting infections. The “good” bacteria help with absorbing vitamins and nutrients such as Vitamin K, A and folate. They even help with the muscles that move food through our systems.
SIBO is essentially a chronic infection of the small intestine. They have found it shows up positive with many chronic conditions. It can lead to various IBS symptoms such as: bloating, abdominal pain/discomfort, Diarrhea, Constipation, Gas/belching and in more severe cases there can be weight loss and the symptoms related to the vitamin deficiencies. One of the biggest issues it causes is called “leaky gut.” But it can “mess with” our immune system as well. This in turn, may cause an increase in allergies, food sensitivities, fatigue, altered cognition or “brain fog”, pain and other neurological symptoms. SIBO is a bacterial infection but it is NOT contagious. It is very hard to treat because antibiotics are used, but in about half of all patients it returns within a year, maybe several times. Extended use of antibiotics is a risk factor for SIBO! It has been studied and most patients with Dysautonomia also suffer from SIBO! There are several publications out now, that find a strong connection between SIBO and Fibromyalgia as well.
So why am I telling you this? Mostly, because many people who have CRPS, EDS, FMS, CFS and other pain illnesses or ones which cause fatigue, also have Dysautonomia. Abnormal autonomic function can cause many varying symptoms, including: fatigue (*not just being tired, but a lack of energy so severe that has a huge impact on a patient’s life), sleep disturbances, altered cognitive function (*known also as brain fog), cold/heat intolerance, headaches (*headache upon waking up are common with ANS dysfunction), bladder/bowel dysfunction and stomach pain (*GI symptoms such as: bloating, early fullness are a part of ANS dysfunction as well). Digestion is a large part of the Autonomic nervous system. In addition, many people with EDS Hypertonicity/Spasticity or abnormal muscle tone have Dysautonomia; along with POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome), visual disturbances and altered sweating.
Treating this small intestinal bacterial infection (SIBO) is very challenging. Treatment is more than just helping with IBS symptoms. SIBO, as I have discussed, is often present with many of the autoimmune or chronic inflammatory diseases. Getting rid of the “wrong” bacteria is most important. I was given an antibiotic and probiotics. But some patients, I’ve read, are given antimicobials, and pro kinetic agents such as low dose Naltrexone.
If you have any of the symptoms of SIBO that I’ve mentioned above, talk with your GP or see a Gastroenterologist, a specialist in digestion and motility disorders. For more information you can visit:
Suzanne suffers from full body CRPS and has lived in chronic pain since 1999. Before being disabled by chronic pain, she was an Interpreter for the Deaf at University of Michigan Hospitals and for several school districts, working with children. Today she is a patient Health Advocate, guest writer, blogger and fundraiser for RSDSA and an Ambassador for U.S. Pain Foundation and creates Advocacy videos, and writes in her own blog “Tears of Truth” (suzydukettes.wordpress.com).