Lifestyle blogger Scarlett Dixon has suffered with severe stomach pains, bloating, constipation and diarrhoea since she was eight – with doctors unable to help. Then she took matters into her own hands
Scarlett Dixon was just eight when the stomach aches began. ‘I still remember being sent home on my eighth birthday because I had a very, very bad stomach ache,’ says the now super-glamourous lifestyle blogger, aged 23. ‘I didn’t really think anything back then because when you’re eight years old everyone gets stomach ache’. But Scarlett’s tummy aches didn’t subside when the rest of her classmates’ did. It continued, and got worse. Much, much worse, plaguing her well into her teenage years and later, her adult life.
It all came to a head when Scarlett was about 14 and facing the pressures of exams. She later found out she was suffering with sever Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), a condition that is often worsened when sufferers are under stress, though Scarlett didn’t know this at the time.
‘I was sitting in a lesson and suddenly had these really, really agonising stomach pains, like hunger pangs but amplified by about 100
‘All the symptoms manifested – diarrhoea, alternating with constipation, stomach cramps, wind – and I was sitting in a lesson and had a sudden urge to go to the toilet,’ she remembers. ‘I had these really, really agonising stomach pains. My tummy was making these crazy noises, like hunger pangs but amplified by about 100. It was so embarrassing, I had no idea what was going on and I couldn’t think if anything else to do but run out of the classroom crying my eyes out.’
The only person Scarlett opened up to was her mother. ‘I didn’t tell a single friend. Going through teenage life was hard enough without this embarrassing condition. I am quite a reserved person but IBS made me even more reserved to the point of being withdrawn, so determined was I to let no-one but my mum know what I was going through.’
I didn’t tell a single friend. Going through teenage life was hard enough without this embarrassing condition.
Scarlett’s mum was helpful, taking her daughter to see GP after GP, specialist after specialist, so Scarlett’s teenage years were spent trying lots of different medications with horrific effects. ‘My symptoms were predominantly alternating between diarrhoea and constipation so I had antispasmodics for the diarrhoea and laxatives for the constipation,’ sScarlett remembers. ‘But the former made me more constipated while the laxatives had me going to the toilet up to 12 times a day.’
As a result of her IBS, Scarlett developed an anxiety disorder that also exacerbated her IBS. ‘It was a vicious cycle, I would get anxious and develop IBS symptoms and they would make me more anxious and that would worsen the symptoms.’ Although she received ultrasounds and blood tests, Scarlett felt her doctors didn’t understand the seriousness of her IBS condition. ‘Doctors were kind of flippant,’ Scarlett recalls. ‘They were like, ‘Oh it’s just IBS, you’ll be fine. it’s nothing more serious.’ But if it was affecting my everyday life in such profound ways, how could it not be serious?’
I remember waking up in the middle of the night calling NHS Helpline and saying, ‘Please can someone send an ambulance, I thought I was dying
It was at 21, when Scarlett was in her second year of university and living on campus that her symptoms took a turn for the worst. ‘Again, it was a time when I had a lot of pressure on me, this time from university,’ she says. ‘I remember waking up in the middle of the night calling NHS Helpline and saying, ‘Please can someone send an ambulance, I thought I was dying, I was in such pain.’ Even then, doctors were confounded as to what to do. ‘I never went to lectures because I was worried I would have to leave in the middle of them. Instead, I got a friend to record them for me and I literally stayed in bed for my whole third year.’
That was the turning point for Scarlett; the time when she realised it was time to take matters into her own hands. ‘I lost faith in my medication and my doctors and started to do some of my own research.’ While Scarlett’s doctors wouldn’t prescribe a colonoscopy (where doctors see into the bowel using a tube-like camera), she had one privately to see if there was anything serious going on. ‘Luckily that all came back clear,’ she says. ‘But it did find I had an extra long ‘leaky bowel’ which means sometimes food gets stuck in there, causing a lot of pain.’ That’s when, from her own research, Scarlett discovered foods such as dairy didn’t suit her because it can be quite difficult to digest and may sit in the intestines and ferment making her leaky bowel condition worse, asserts Scarlett.
After cutting out dairy, my bloating was much much better, almost instantly
Around the same time, Scarlett had a YorkTest done. This is a simple blood test that identifies foods the body may be intolerant to. ‘It showed I was extremely intolerant to eggs and cow’s milk and practically from the day I got those results I cut out all dairy and eggs,’ recalls Scarlett. Within about three months, Scarlett was going to the loo in a normal pattern (instead of around 12 times a day at the worst of times) and her bloating had subsided. ‘It was so severe that after eating a big meal I might see my stomach increase by a few dress sizes,’ she says. ‘I had from size 12 to 16 clothes in my wardrobe because I didn’t know what my stomach would be doing that day. After cutting out dairy, my bloating was much much better, almost instantly.’
Still, there were hints of the old symptoms. Occasional stomach cramps and diarrhoea, Scarlet recalls. ‘I was Googling ‘IBS’, ‘solutions’ and ‘gut health’ when I came across probiotics and the part they play in IBS. I had tried some before and they hadn’t really worked and you had to keep them in the fridge, which didn’t work for me as I was traveling a lot at the time.’ But because Scarlet had taken so many antibiotics in the past to help her IBS, she continued to wonder whether probiotics – which can help restore the friendly bacteria in the gut that antibiotics and a stressful lifestyle can upset – could help.
Last summer, Scarlett came across Alflorex, a probiotic supplement scientifically proven to work against the symptoms of IBS
In the Sumer of 2016, Scarlett came across Alflorex, a probiotic supplement that contains a strain called B. infantis 35624, scientifically proven to work against the symptoms of IBS. ‘I’d been writing about IBS on my blog since I was 20 and people were overwhelming in their support of me.’ It was during one of Scarlett’s blogger events that someone mentioned Alflorex and it’s proven background with IBS patients – it has some 75 scientific papers showing its benefits.
‘I was cynical thinking, ‘Well nothing has worked for me, why would this?” But a few months later, I was travelling a lot and I was having a bout of my old symptoms – abdominal pain, and alternating diarrhoea and constipation. So ready once more to try anything, I thought I would give Alflorex a trial run.
‘Within just a week, I found it really helped with taking the edge off those symptoms – I wasn’t getting as bloated and the stomach pains were much less frequent. Within a month, all my symptoms had subsided again, even though I wasn’t eating the most perfect diet while I was travelling,’ Scarlett recalls.
‘That’s what I loved about it – it helped my symptoms even when I wasn’t eating a certain way. I went to Iceland and accidentally ate some dairy. I was on Alflorex at the time and I remember thinking ‘Oh my Gosh, this is going to mean I’m going to be on the toilet for hours and I’ll be really bloated, but nothing happened. That was an incentive for me to keep taking them everyday, they were actually working.’
‘I still have a sensitive stomach, especially when I am nervous,’ says Scarlett. ‘Last week I felt my stomach kind of go, because I had to speak at an event, but that was just anxiety; like nervous butterflies and nothing like a used to get before. It felt like the start of the symptoms I used to get but never led to anything more, thanks to the changes I have made in my diet and Alflorex which I now take at night.’
And do your research, there is help out there
Scarlett’s advice to people reading this suffering with IBS? ‘Confide in someone,’ she asserts. ‘If you’re at school, tell a good friend or teacher. If you’re at work, tell your boss so you don’t feel you’re letting people down if you’re unwell and unable to attend a meeting. Don’t keep it all inside. And do your research, there is help out there.’
One month’s supply of Alflorex – 30 tablets – costs £19.99 at Boots stores nationwide and online
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