A real life medical mystery for Grey's Anatomy star

April 8, 2011 6:17:44 AM PDT
An actress who plays one of the doctors on ABC's Grey's Anatomy has been in the throes of her own real-life drama.

Each week on the show, the doctors leave no stone unturned in trying to diagnose medical problems.

But last year, a real-life medical mystery hit home for one of the stars.

The teenage daughter of Chandra Wilson, known on the show as Dr. Bailey, seemed to be sick to her stomach all the time.

Initially, doctors thought Sarina had food poisoning because her vomiting stopped. But each month it would return.

"As the days went by, I just kept on throwing up and I got dehydrated. Wouldn't eat, wouldn't drink," said Sarina McFarlane.

And the same cycle continued, month after month, for nearly a year.

"She had every kind of scan you could think of, you know, upper GI's and CT scans, and delayed gastric emptying tests, and you know, blood work constantly," explained Chandra Wilson.

Sarina was in the hospital often. She was losing weight, and not keeping up with school.

After eliminating a host of other conditions, doctors mentioned "cyclic vomiting syndrome."

"My question was okay, so what does that mean?" said Chandra.

"Cyclic vomiting" is sometimes also called abdominal migraine. The real problem isn't in the stomach. It's centered in the same nervous system that causes migraine pain in the head.

Symptoms of abdominal migraine such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and tiredness come in cycles.

Dr. Richard Boles, a specialist, says research points to a problem within the nerve cells. They can't keep up with the body's demand for energy in people with the disorder. That's why episodes are generally seen in times of stress.

"These episodes can occur apparently at random, triggered by high energy demand situations and a particular illness, but also not eating, over-exercise, or psychological stress," explained Dr. Richard Boles.

For Sarina, her menstrual cycle apparently triggered the attacks.

Dr. Boles prescribes amtriptyline or Elavil, an antidepressant commonly prescribed for migraines, and Co-Q10, a supplement, which can boost energy. He says it works in 90% of his patients, including Sarina.

"I'm back to where I used to be, so it's very good," says Sarina.

"Finally in December, she got back to her weight, her fighting weight before her first episode," said Chandra.

Abdominal Migraines are more common in children, and they seem to be inherited through the mother's side of a family.

But there is still a lot more to learn about the disorder.