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.
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.
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.
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.
“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
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.
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.
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.
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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.