I went through 14 years of agonising pain and thought I was going mad but I was suffering from a common disease that affects thousands


AS A TEENAGER, Natasha King was so bloated she looked pregnant and suffered from a debilitating brain fog and anxiety which made her wonder if she was going mad.

But a simple test revealed she was suffering from a disease which affects one in ten people here in Britain – coeliac disease.

Natalie King feared she was going mad – but was actually suffering from coeliac disease
Julie Cook

Here, speaking exclusively to Fabulous Digital, the 20-year-old trainee teacher, from Leicestershire, tells her story…

Clutching my stomach in agony, I wondered what all my friends were doing at school.

I was only eight and had missed so much school already, being forced to spend days alone on the sofa, unable to move.

As a child, I suffered severe tummy pain from just four years old.

She suffered from debilitating stomach cramps from the age of 4 – and wasn’t diagnosed until she turned 18
Julie Cook

My mum Vanessa, now 47, would give me a hot water bottle to ease the cramps and tell me to lie down – but nothing helped.

She’d been back and forth with me to the GP but she told me it was just IBS – irritable bowel syndrome – and gave me medication to take to ease the spasms.

Despite the pills, I was still in agony.

I was off school every few weeks and, although I had great mates, I felt like the odd one out.

I didn’t enjoy school at all, which is funny because now I’m a PE teacher, probably because I want to makes sure kids have more fun than I ever did.

Natalie would also suffer from bloating which made her feel ‘huge’ and ‘pregnant’
Julie Cook

As I got older, the pain worsened. Mum was always taking me to the GP, pushing for another diagnosis, but she was adamant it was IBS.

But then came another symptom – I started feeling tired and confused. I could barely concentrate.

During exams, I had to fight to stay awake and focus on my studies.

I started thinking “what’s wrong with me?”

The bloating was terrible, too. By the time I was 16 I looked pregnant a lot of the time – and was forced to wear baggy T-shirts to hide it.

My friends would tell me not to be silly, saying I looked skinny, but in my eyes I felt huge.

“Why aren’t the doctors helping me? I’m in so much pain,” I asked Mum.

She was at her wits’ end too. She longed to help me and hated seeing me like this.

Although the physical symptoms were bad, it was the toll on her mental health Natalie found hardest to deal with
Julie Cook

“Is this all in my head?” I asked myself. The ‘brain fog’ and constant tiredness, when I should have been out with friends.

I wondered if I was going mad. Soon I was falling asleep in the middle of the day or collapsing in bed the minute I got home and sleeping for hours.

I was constantly forgetting things. As a teen, I had part-time jobs in bars, restaurants and with catering companies at weddings – but would struggle to remember simple instructions.

I wondered if I was going mad. Soon I was falling asleep in the middle of the day or collapsing in bed the minute I got home

Natasha King,20

I became depressed and suffered from anxiety, another symptom of coeliac disease, although I didn’t realise that at the time.

I had always been a happy child, giving everything my all, but suddenly I felt very lost and down.

I even stopped eating, because the pain was so bad. I would be doubled over in pain.

She still suffers from brain fog and anxiety – but finds it easier to cope now she knows the cause
Julie Cook

Finally, when I was 18, my family moved house and I joined a new GP surgery.

I went for a routine appointment and told the doctor my symptoms, fully expecting him to give me more over-the-counter medication.

But he didn’t. Instead he said: “We need to test you for coeliac disease.”

He sent me for a blood test. The results showed an antibody to gluten – the thing that causes coeliac disease.

It was bad. Gluten is found in bread, pizza, pasta – so many things I ate all the time.

I was then sent for an endoscopy – where a camera is passed through the throat and down into the small intestine – and had a biopsy of my intestine to see what damage had been done.

Coeliac disease: The facts

  • Coeliac disease is a common digestive condition, caused by an adverse reaction to gluten.
  • Gluten is found in bread, pasta, beer and cereals – as well as many sauces and ready meals.
  • It’s an autoimmune condition, meaning the immune system attacks gluten, causing damage to the small intestine and making the body unable to absorb nutrients.
  • Common symptoms include diarrhoea, abdominal pain and bloating – as well as confusion and fatigue.
  • It affects one in 100 people, and is two to three times more common in women.
  • But doctors believe as many as 500,000 people here in Britain remain undiagnosed as they think they have another digestive condition, like IBS.
  • Coeliac Awareness Week is May 13-19 and you can take an online assessment here.

The very same day, I got the result. My consultant looked shocked.

“This is the worst case of damage I’ve ever seen,” he said.

I’d eaten gluten all my life – for 18 years – and it had caused major damage to my intestine.

The condition also explained the fatigue, brain fog and confusion I was experiencing.

I was put immediately on a strict gluten-free diet. It was hard at first, but I soon learnt to check every label.

Natalie used to hate school – but now she works as a PE teacher
Julie Cook

Now, 18 months on, I am feeling so much better.

My consultant says my stomach damage will never be fully repaired, but I no longer have bloating, my pain has gone and best of all I feel energised, happy and focused.

I want to tell everyone out there – even young people – to not be fobbed off with “it’s just IBS”.

Coeliac disease is a serious condition that can damage you long-term.

It’s blighted my life for 18 years – both physically and mentally.

I still struggle with brain fog and anxiety, but it’s much easier finally knowing what’s caused my problems.

Now, finally, I can start living.

Natasha documents her gluten free journey on her Instagram page.



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