Before giving to you my beginner’s guide to digestive health testing, I have to apologize. Seriously. I have always stated that the number one thing you must do in order to heal your gut in the most efficient and effective way is to get tested. Know exactly what’s wrong with you so that you can make the best, targeted plan for healing that/your specific condition.
But I’m sorry because I wasn’t super specific and clear for how you go about doing it.
The truth is that I spent years and years going ’round and ’round in circles. Like a dog chasing my tail, I could never quite figure it out.
Until I did. Of course I did. But from the time I truly began (my senior year of college at the dentist of all places) until my real diagnosis, the time span was (at a minimum) approximately 9 years (2005 to 2014).
NINE years! I do not want that for any Gutsy woman, her children, other family members, or friends.
I recently put up a Q&A via Instagram Stories. Someone asked,
What’s the best first step in healing your gut?
My reply, “Get TESTED! Don’t guess. Get an accurate diagnosis so you know how to begin healing.”
And from that answer, so many follow up questions came in. So I knew that Y’all needed this beginner’s guide to digestive health testing.
Beginner’s Guide to Digestive Health Testing
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To start, read the post How to Find an Integrative Medicine Doctor. I wrote that a couple years back and in the post you will find:
- What is an Integrative Medicine Doctor?
- Who is my doctor?
- Resources for finding one in your own area.
And then, check out all the tests I’ve ever had done for all gut and hormone-related issues via my Complete List of Gut and Hormone Tests.
Okay, let’s just dive in from the beginning.
Here’s the common situation: You have always felt fairly okay, up until the last few months. You’re feeling off in xyz ways. You’ve done a little Googling (ah, the old Dr. Google). And now you want to know what exactly is wrong.
But you don’t know where to start.
Western Doctor or Functional/Integrative (Alternative) Doctor?
If you want my honest opinion, you might need both. And this is not what your wallet wants to hear, but in my experiences, they both matter.
Western Doctor Pros:
- Usually covered by insurance.
- Can do the heavier-duty things like scoping.
- Necessary medications are oftentimes easier (and cheaper) to get through them.
Instead of writing a “cons” list, I decided to just share with you my personal negative experiences with Western docs and gut health. They include:
- Very quick to prescribe medications.
- Kept giving me masks instead of solutions (i.e. bottles of Magnesium Citrate instead of figuring out why I was so miserably bloated).
- Dismissed my gut intuitions. (It’s a real thing – your gut intuition. You know that, yes?!)
- Treated my condition vs. me.
- Spent little time listening.
Alternative Doctor Pros:
- Full health history, and will take the time to listen.
- Consider any and all options – even “non-traditional” ones like SIBO, Lyme, mold exposure, etc.
- They can prescribe medications, but whenever possible, start somewhere else.
- They will view you (and your life) holistically vs. separating you by your condition/symptom.
Alternative Doctor Cons:
- Out-of-pocket payments usually; no insurance. (This is something, though, that you can clarify prior to even setting the appointment up. For example, many alternative practitioners are still able to take insurance for common blood tests. At least all of mine have, thus putting less of the financial burden upon you.)
- You might have to do a little more research to make sure they are credible and legitimate.
- Over-supplementation. Yes, it does happen.
Which Route to Choose – Did I Choose / Do I Recommend?
The way I go about my doctors these days is that my main/primary doctor is an Integrative Doctor. When I go to his office and need testing, he does everything he can through insurance ((some tests, like CBC (complete blood count)) can be billed through insurance still). If he suspects something outside his realm, he refers me to the local GI.
So for example, this past summer when I needed my Colonoscopy and Endoscopy, he referred me to a clinic. That procedure was done with a Western doc and was covered by insurance. The results from the procedure were immediately sent to my doctor. I then had the choice – get the follow up care via my doctor or the GI who performed it? I chose my doctor, and would 100% recommend that for anyone reading this, too – go back to your alternative doctor (unless you’re dealing with something severe; in that case, maybe you need both).
If you think that I only believe in alternative routes, you would be 1,000% incorrect. I believe there is a great marriage between the two different routes. You just have to know how to do it, and how to know yourself well enough to know where and how to navigate that marriage.
I take both prescription medications and supplements. I do traditional therapies and alternative. When I need an antibiotic, I don’t hesitate; but I’m also not quick to jump on the daily NSAID.
How About Online Testing?
In addition to a functional practitioner and general Western doctor, there is always the option for online testing as well.
I wrote in depth about EverlyWell because I get asked frequently about the service. Click HERE to read the full post, learn all about the service, and exactly which tests you can do with them from the comfort of your own home. In addition to EverlyWell, here are some other online health testing sources:
While EverlyWell seems to be leading the way these days, you will find other sources for doing at-home tests, depending on which tests you feel necessary.
I think the online testing option is incredible. I believe it works, and I love that more and more people have access to knowing what’s wrong. That said, just because you get an online test done with full results back does not mean you are equipped to fully understand the results and/or take the steps necessary once a diagnosis has been made.
For these reasons, I think online testing is a great place to start, but you’ll still need to find a doctor of choice, nutritionist, and/or health coach of sorts (depending on the severity of the results) to help you move forward on your healing journey.
Another awesome resource is this brand new tool from my friend Ashley Koff, the Better Digestion Evaluation. It is the first and only tool to help you review your current total nutrition to discover what is better and what could be better for digestive health. With this tool you are able to take a quiz and share your results with your practitioner(s). Perfection.
Alternative Doctors: Price and Legitimacy
A concern was raised around the price and legitimacy of a functional/integrative doctor.
I totally get that, too. No one wants the snake oil, and you better believe that there’s snake oil in alternative medicine just as there is in Western.
So what’s the answer?
I think there are three main steps to take / things to consider:
- Read my post on how to find an integrative medicine doctor above.
- Ask for referrals from people who live where you do. If they have an alternative doctor they love, but s/he is up to an hour away, decide if it’s worth it to you. Referrals are best, and I drive about 30-40 minutes to my doctor.
- Check out the doctor’s credentials. An alternative doctor should still be a legitimate doctor. Where did they go to school? What did they study? Are they part of any boards or members of associations? What is their specialty, and does that specialty fit with what your main concern(s) are?
Preparing for Your Appointment
Once you’ve booked the appointment, you are ready to prepare for it.
In life, I believe that one can never be too prepared. When it comes to your health, I really believe this.
Approaching the situation will feel far more comfortable if you are prepared. If I had to do it all over again, here is exactly how I would prepare. And yes, now is the time when Dr. Google is okay (the research phase; just don’t implement anything yet!).
- Get out a notebook, and write out all current symptoms. Write things like: bloated, low appetite, low energy, constipated (only 1-2 bowel movements per week), acne, inability to concentrate, burping, etc.
- Then, make note of how long it’s all been going on for.
- Head to Dr. Google / the library / medical journals and research any and all conditions that could be associated with the symptoms. Don’t be shy, just do it. You might stumble upon things like: SIBO, IBS, Celiac, Depression, Anxiety, GERD, etc. Do know that you will also probably find out that you’re dying – within days. Seriously, that’s why Dr. Google can be so damaging. Write everything out, but do not assume or take anything to heart until you are tested and know for sure!
- Miscellaneous Notes. Keep a section for any relevant notes you want to make sure to communicate to the doctor. For example, while I don’t believe Isaiah (our 3-year-old) has Celiac (he also tested negative for it), his 23andMe test told us that he could be prone to Celiac. He is having massive stomach issues, so even though it’s 98% not Celiac, it could be another form of IBS and/or IBD going on that we need to address. This, family history, other illnesses, etc.
Approaching the Situation
The day of your appointment comes. You feel, naturally, nervous. It’s okay. But remember this…..
YOU are in control. You are the boss. And you are paying THEM. That’s right, they work FOR YOU.
At any point, you can fire them. I’ve done it several times. In fact, I just did it again this week on Isaiah’s behalf. I didn’t appreciate the MiraLax solution after she physically saw a problem via X-ray. And guess what? TODAY he will be seeing my doctor. (Side note: Squeeeeeee – more soon!)
If you’ve chosen to start with an alternative doctor, this conversation is going to be relatively easy. They have seen and heard it all; likely have done every single standard and non-standard test (CBC to Lyme, heavy metals, and more).
But if you find yourself in a traditional setting, the way I would (and did/do) approach it is by getting out my preparation notes and starting in on the conversation. You don’t need to read it off to them like you’re reading a manuscript. Just be casual about it. What are your symptoms and how long have they been going on? Maybe highlight some of the most common conditions you think could be associated, and then mention any and all outstanding notes. In my experiences, one of three things happens:
- They dismiss you and any/all concerns you might have. In those situations, tears usually just filled my eyes because I knew I’d be “back to square one.” And the hard truth is that you will be.
- The doctor agrees to more testing. It’s not that they “believe” or don’t believe you at this point, but rather that they have agreed to investigate more. Work with them.
- S/he, without doing any testing, guestimates what is wrong. S/he prescribes medication, and at this point you get to choose whether or not you’ll take it. Don’t believe me? Happens every single second of every single day. When my mouth problems first began, they said nothing looked off in my mouth. And yet, “Thrush” is what they concluded. I was given a Nystatin prescription, and off I went. This was at the very beginning of the journey. I didn’t know any better. I took it, and then I got worse.
You’ll leave that appointment, and then go from there depending on which of the three scenarios just happened.
Why You are Being Dismissed by Your Western Medicine Doctor
Here is a message one woman sent me,
I’ve found most Western medicine doctors don’t even consider gut imbalances an issue. I’ve been passed along and passed along and eventually gave up.
I’ll be real and raw with you; these are the 4 reasons why you’re being dismissed:
- The doctor went to Medical school for years upon years. They are the expert; you are the patient. Does that statement make you angry? Yes, me, too. Furious! But that’s the reality for them.
- You’re using the “wrong” terms. For example, you walk into the doctor’s office and tell them you think you have Adrenal Fatigue. S/he rolls their eyes because, from a medical standpoint, “Adrenal Fatigue” is not accurate. The medical term for it is hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis (HPA axis or HTPA axis).
- They don’t know. It isn’t their fault, but they truly don’t know. Ask any doctor how many classes/hours of nutrition and alternative medicine they completed while in Med School; the answer will shock you.
- There is no money in alternative medicine for them. They can’t “prescribe” supplements, herbs, and alternative therapies while still running a business.
Like anything and everything else in life, the way you approach a situation is highly dependent upon who it is you are addressing/context. Would you approach a conversation with a family member in the same way you’d approach it with a celebrity? Um, likely, no.
Digestive Health Tests to Ask For
There are, literally, thousands of tests out there. Knowing which ones(s) to ask for is highly dependent upon that preparation list you made from above.
A Gutsy Girl has covered the following conditions / tests:
- Proctitis (a form of Colitis)
- IBS vs. IBD
- Leaky Gut Syndrome
- SIBO Test
- Adrenal Fatigue Test
- EverlyWell Testing
- Colonoscopy + Endoscopy
- Dutch testing
- + 15 different gut and hormone tests in general
- Blue Dye Test
- Every pre-IVF test under the sun (and then some)
Is this list anywhere near exhaustive? Heck no! (CONTACT ME NOW if you’d like me to add a condition or test to the research queue.)
Remember, this is a Beginner’s Guide to Digestive Health Testing. Also remember that this is my life’s work.
I am a researcher and journalist by trade, but I am also the face of a woman just like you who has gone through it all (well, a lot of it – let’s not get carried away!) My goal is to continue studying, writing, researching, and sharing every last thing with you. Because….
You will heal. I will help.
Now, go ahead, leave any and all questions in the comments below. I will address them either by adding more to this post or let a new topic emerge via its own post.
You will heal. I will help.