I Suffered from Severe IBS for 18 Years till One Treatment Changed Everything

Jen Babakhan
Courtesy Dawn Cobb

Imagine 18 years of suffering from severe stomach pain and uncontrollable diarrhea. That was Dawn Cobb's life, and she couldn't get anyone to listen. Doctors brushed off her troubles as stress or diet—even though she had to carry a change of clothes with her due to accidents. "As a woman, it was embarrassing even talking to a female gastroenterologist about how uncontrollable the diarrhea and pain really was," Cobb recalls. She was on the verge of trying radical surgery when a doctor suggested a new pill.

"Before the diarrhea started I had been so active," says the 63-year-old Cobb, who lives in Fairfield County, Connecticut. "I would go for walks and played tennis. Once it began, I couldn't count on myself. I knew where every bathroom along the way was located, but I had no control over it. It made it all the more embarrassing." She knew something was truly wrong, so Cobb returned to her gastroenterologist and underwent more and more tests. "They just keep sending me for more testing. I had colonoscopies and stool tests, all of which came back normal. There was no real treatment they were offering me." Diagnosing gut issues is tricky—here are 11 diseases that can start with gut bacteria.

Desperate for relief, she considered having surgery to remove a portion of her colon. Before making that drastic move, Cobb sought another opinion. "The second gastroenterologist I saw told me there were other options, and that it sounded like I had irritable bowel syndrome. He told me about an antibiotic that had been FDA approved for the treatment of IBS-D [irritable bowel syndrome that has primary symptoms of frequent diarrhea and stomach pain]. I told him I would try anything."

Cobb returned to her previous doctor and requested the antibiotic Xifaxan: Taken for two weeks, it targets a gut bacteria thought to contribute to IBS-D symptoms. While experts don't know for sure what causes IBS-D, some people respond well to Xifaxan. Currently, there is no cure for IBS-D, which affects more women than men and is more common in people younger than 50. Treatment often includes a combination of lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications.

Cobb was one of the lucky ones: She saw a drastic improvement in her symptoms almost immediately. "This has changed my life. I don't have IBS-D anymore. I play tennis and walk again. I can play with my grandchildren. It's really incredible." Cobb has had two rounds of treatment—which is usually the limit before doctors try a different treatment; Cobb says if her symptoms come back, she wouldn't hesitate to take Xifaxan again.

She has advice for people who battle digestive troubles: "Those of us with long term problems start to believe that it really is just us—but you know your own body and if something is wrong. There is an answer. We have to learn to talk to our doctors, as embarrassing as it is. They're people too and they've heard it all. You don't have to suffer." Gain more knowledge about your stomach issues by checking out the 7 types of stomach pain and what they mean.