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The 17-Year-Old Girl Unable to Digest Food

Mya has been unable to eat and digest food since she was in sixth grade. A severe bout of stomach-flu-like symptoms hit her six years ago and never left – since then she has received all her nutrition through a feeding tube.

She has seen doctor after doctor, but her diagnosis has been elusive. Some have suggested that she is faking her nausea for attention. She isn’t able to go to school and has been homebound. “I have no energy since I have no nutrition,” she explains.

Finally, specialists discovered the root of Mya’s uncontrollable vomiting – a syndrome known as rumination. “My body and my brain pretty much learned whenever food hits my stomach, it needs to get rid of it,” says Mya. “I don’t want to be throwing up. I’m not bulimic, and I don’t want to be anorexic. I just want to get better!”

The treatment to resolve rumination is expensive and Mya isn’t convinced it will help. The Doctors send Mya to Gastroenterologist Dr. Su Sacher and Psychotherapist Dr. Mike Dow for solutions.

Watch: Doctor Looks for Clues to Chronic Vomiting

Dr. Sacher runs tests to check Mya’s nutritional state, see whether she is suffering from a bacterial stomach infection, and discover whether she has gallstones. Dr. Sachar’s reveal good news – her tests found no abnormalities. “It really does reinforce the diagnosis of rumination syndrome.”

Then Mya and her mother, Emily, sit down with Dr. Dow. He asks Mya about her emotional state as she copes with her syndrome, and she confesses, “It got really bad this past year, and I almost did commit suicide.” Her mother comforts her, “This isn’t your fault, and you know that.” Dr. Dow teaches Mya some deep-breathing relaxation techniques to cope with stress and anxiety. It might be the first step to help her overcome rumination.

Dr. Dow explains that rumination doesn’t really produce vomiting – patients regurgitate food into their mouths after swallowing, as an involuntary spasm not unlike burping. Although sometimes the syndrome is associated with bulimia, that not the case for Mya. Her gastrointestinal illness in sixth grade caused her brain and body to associate eating with nausea. And over time, Dr. Dow says, “Your body has learned the response, and it never went away. It got reinforced and reinforced.”

Watch: Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome

According to Dr. Dow, the syndrome is becoming more common in children and teens, and he believes it’s because of the increasing stress of everyday life. The fight-or-flight response can trigger the spasms of rumination.

Buck Runyan, Executive Director of Remuda Ranch at the Meadows, offers Mya free in-patient treatment. Remuda Ranch specializes in treating girls and women with eating disorders and has a program the help her overcome rumination. “There’s so much I want to do!” Mya exclaims. “It’s so ironic, but what I want to go college for is culinary school.”

Watch: Teen Unable to Digest Food Seeks Help for Rumination Syndrome

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