Have you ever heard of cyclic vomiting syndrome? Yeah, me neither. But if it sounds like a terrible condition to you, that’s because it is. Just ask Grey’s Anatomy star Chandra Wilson and her daughter, Sarina McFarlane.
Wilson (who plays Dr. Miranda Bailey on the ABC show) opened up to PEOPLE about her daughter’s struggles with the disorder, which came about when she was 16. After hanging out with friends, McFarlane assumed she had come down with food poisoning. However, that one bout of nausea and vomiting turned into consistent attacks that continue years later.
“She would get these terrible bouts of vomiting and stabbing abdominal pains,” Wilson said in the magazine’s newest issue. “I thought, ‘This was crazy.’ Something was wrong with my daughter, and nobody could tell me what it was.”
Wilson found herself tracking the foods McFarlane was eating and a wealth of other information to figure out what was going on. McFarlane, a teenager at the time as confused about her condition as anyone else would be, not only dealt with the debilitating symptoms, but judgment from her classmates.
“People in high school thought I was throwing up because I was trying to lose weight,” McFarlane said.
It took 10 months from her first real attack for doctors to truly figure out what was happening to McFarlane, who often would end up in the hospital to deal with dehydration from her condition. In 2010 she was diagnosed with two things: mitochondrial dysfunction and cyclic vomiting syndrome. The syndrome is rare, but it causes out of the blue nausea, vomiting and exhaustion.
McFarlane’s physician, Dr. Richard Boles, told PEOPLE that there is no cure for CVS, but it can be kept in check with the help of medication, vitamins and a more active lifestyle. But that doesn’t mean symptoms will up and disappear. McFarlane, now 23, still has to go to the hospital from time to time due to the effects of the nausea, vomiting and exhaustion. She said that she often feels judged by doctors when she goes.
“If you go to the hospital two, three or four times, they think you’re a druggie,” she said.
However, she adds that she can’t sit in a corner and cry about her condition. She just has to try and do what she can to live her best life despite of it — and what others may think.
“I could be sad about it,” McFarlane said, “but it’s going to come back anyway.”
So what is the deal with cyclic vomiting syndrome? Here are five fast facts you should know (before you do your own research, of course):
It can start at any age.
According to the Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome Association, it can start at any time. CVS can occur for just a few months, but it can also, in McFarlane’s case, go on for years or even decades.
CVS occurrences can take place every once in a while or very often.
Episodes can reportedly happen as often as a few times a month or as little as several times a year. It depends on the case. However, they can be so bad that an individual has to stay in bed for days.
CVS may have something to do with persistent migraines.
According to the Mayo Clinic, CVS could be attached to a family history of migraines. And while an adult’s association with migraines when they have CVS may be lower, many children with CVS have such a family history, and/or, go on to deal with migraine headaches as they get older.
A number of people with CVS also deal with depression and anxiety.
According to research, almost half of those with cyclic vomiting syndrome also have depression or anxiety. Still, researchers say that it isn’t clear if such disorders are actually the cause or result of CVS.
There is no cure for CVS, but it can be controlled.
As in McFarlane’s case, aside from being more active and replenishing your body with vitamins, certain medications can help a person deal with CVS. Prescriptions include anti-nausea drugs, antidepressants, meds for stomach acid suppression, sedatives, as well as medications that are also used for migraines.
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