Cybill Shepherd's New Role: Fighting IBS
Cybill Shepherd gained fame in The Last Picture Show with her fiery performance as a Texas teen who didn't want to grow up. She's also been a beauty queen, cover girl, and TV comedienne (remember Moonlighting and Cybill?).
But she'd rather talk about a different role. Today, she's an educator out to improve women's health.
Her goal: To help millions of American women learn how to cope with a chronic digestive disorder called irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The right diagnosis and lifestyle changes can ease its symptoms.
"I struggled with IBS and related constipation for more than 20 years, and nothing seemed to help," says Shepherd. "I went to doctor after doctor to complain about abdominal pain, constipation, and bloating. But most of them told me it was all in [my] head.
Impact on her life
"Without an accurate diagnosis, I went on suffering. The condition made me absolutely miserable at times, and it finally started interfering with my acting career and raising my three children.
"Fortunately, I decided to get very serious about managing my disease. I was also pretty lucky because I found a specialist who knew how to diagnose and treat my form of IBS, which includes constipation." Other forms of IBS involve diarrhea alone or both diarrhea and constipation.
With her doctor's help, Shepherd put together a disease-management plan in 2003. She changed her diet—cutting down on fried foods and caffeine, for example—and exercised more.
"There's no question that IBS can be managed successfully, once the disorder is properly diagnosed," she says. "If your doctor tells you your IBS symptoms are all in your head, it may be time to change doctors. My hope in speaking out about this condition is that women will start getting over their embarrassment and begin talking openly with their doctors about symptoms. I don't want them to suffer in silence the way I did."
Abdominal pain, bloating, and constipation marred a career that began at age 8, when Shepherd joined a church choir in her native Memphis, Tenn. After being named "Miss Teenage Memphis" in 1966 (and later dating Elvis Presley), she tried Hollywood. At age 20, she won the role of Jacy Farrow in 1971's The Last Picture Show.
In the next three decades, Cybill starred in dozens of films and TV sitcoms. She acted on stage and penned a memoir, Cybill Disobedience. But IBS lurked in the wings.
"I tried nearly everything," she says, "including fiber supplements and over-the-counter laxatives. But nothing helped relieve my symptoms. Finally, however, I decided to talk openly with my doctor, and to put together a treatment plan."
Today, Shepherd says she's "feeling great and working hard." In 2005, she appeared in the film Open Window and several made-for-TV movies.
She plans to keep telling women about IBS.
"Learning how to take care of your health is an act of self-empowerment," she says. "And that's the heart of my health care message, wherever I go."
IBS affects one in five Americans, most of them women.
"Unfortunately, many women who struggle with the condition don't realize that it can often be treated effectively by watching your diet, exercising frequently and taking medication designed to promote hormone balance in the digestive system," says Susan Lucak, M.D., an IBS specialist in New York.
Constipation, diarrhea, or a combination usually marks IBS. Key symptoms are bouts of abdominal pain or discomfort and bloating that can last days, Dr. Lucak says.
Doctors don't fully understand IBS. Some think that in genetically predisposed patients, sensitive digestive tracts misread signals from the central nervous system. When that happens, the digestive system for a time shuts down (constipation) or speeds up (diarrhea).
How can you deal with IBS? "The first step is to get an accurate diagnosis from your physician," says Dr. Lucak. "Once you understand the particular form your IBS takes, you and the doctor can design an effective treatment plan."
Variety of options
That plan will vary depending on whether you mainly have constipation, diarrhea, both constipation and diarrhea, or abdominal bloating and pain. These may be part of your plan:
Avoid food triggers (such as fried foods, caffeine, and alcohol).
Increase fiber intake.
Drink more fluids.
Exercise more each day.
Take the right medication. Consult with your physician for the appropriate treatment plan for you.