Ex-Blue Peter star Zoe opens up on her battle with debilitating IBS and of her fears it could have ruined her wedding day
A former Miss Northern Ireland has opened up about her two-decade battle with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and the excruciatingly painful attacks that she has struggled with since she was 17.
Bangor-born Zoe Salmon-Corrie was diagnosed with the disorder when she was a teenager and said the pain that accompanies an attack was unlike anything else she'd ever experienced.
"I was 17 when I had my first IBS attack and it was very scary," said Zoe (36).
"At the time I was studying for my A-levels and I was working in a shop.
"One afternoon I just doubled up in pain. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I collapsed with the pain and I didn't know what was happening to me.
"I went to my GP the next day and he thought I may have eaten something I was intolerant to, perhaps MSG. But a few months later it happened again. I had another attack at my sister's birthday in a Chinese restaurant. I thought it was food poisoning, but every few months I'd have another attack and I was eventually diagnosed with IBS."
She added: "Since then I have had excruciating attacks every couple of months, where I felt as though I had been stabbed in the abdomen, because the cramps were so bad. I've never had pain like it."
The presenter revealed that IBS had been responsible for some of the most embarrassing events in her life, and the extreme symptoms which come with it, including bloating, diarrhoea, constipation and crippling abdominal cramps are difficult to cope with.
"I've been walking down the Vegas strip and had to urgently hail a cab because of the onset of a cramp.
"Once I was at a friend's dinner party and, within minutes, I got an attack.
"I had to lock myself in the bathroom. I was in so much pain I could hardly even speak, and I hadn't told any of my friends that I had IBS.
"With IBS the symptoms can be so extreme, it's hard to overcome them."
Zoe revealed her worst attack came in Amsterdam Airport as she was preparing to catch a flight back to Belfast following the Island Challenge with Bear Grylls.
"I was the only one flying to Belfast when I got an attack that lasted 10 hours. There was absolutely no way I could get on that flight. If you paid me £1m I couldn't have done it - even though it was such a short journey. People don't understand what it's like for people with IBS," she explained.
Earlier this year Zoe wed her long-term love William Corrie in Barbados and the presenter revealed she was desperate to prevent an attack on her wedding day.
"I began taking Alflorex in February. Although I was sceptical, the fact that it is an all-natural culture really appealed to me and I felt like I had nothing to lose. I hate taking medication, even for a headache, so that was a really big plus for me. It's been a hugely positive experience. For years I was removing certain things from my diet, believing they triggered my IBS, but I was still having attacks regularly. My diet is still relatively dairy-free. I've been eating exactly what I want. I love chillies and jalapenos, so I've been quite liberal with them, something I wasn't able to do before."
Zoe says she hasn't had an IBS attack since February and thoroughly enjoyed her honeymoon pain-free.
"I got married in April and I was so worried that I would have an attack," she said.
"I just wanted to eat what I wanted and enjoy my wedding day. I really just wanted to relax and enjoy myself with my husband and I was so delighted for that time to go by without an attack. For the first time in my adult life IBS isn't in the back of my mind."
The ex-Blue Peter presenter revealed that there was still a taboo surrounding IBS and its symptoms and by sharing her experience she hoped to relieve the embarrassment that can sometimes surrounds the disorder.
"With IBS everyone's pattern is different and there are so many people who are undiagnosed out there, or people who have been misdiagnosed. Many people don't put two and two together," she added.
"There wasn't a lot of information when I was growing up, so I hope that by talking about the symptoms it will make people more aware of the disorder and help other women and men who are suffering."