I touched on the topics of Coeliac Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) in the ‘about’ section on my blog but I decided to dedicate a page specifically to them so that I could go into more detail. Although there is a much bigger spotlight on digestive disorders these days I still believe there is a stigma surrounding these ‘invisible illnesses’ purely because people just do not understand them and you cannot visibly tell that an individual is suffering from them.
As someone who lives with Coeliac Disease and IBS I believe that there is still work to be done with regards to raising awareness for them. I think that due to the nature of these disorders and the symptoms they cause many people are too embarrassed to speak out or even ask for medical advice. Although this seems to be changing as they are getting more of a spotlight I cannot urge anyone, who potentially suffers from these symptoms, to visit their doctor more. You should NOT be embarrassed!
Coeliac Disease is an autoimmune disease caused by gluten (a protein naturally occurring in wheat, barley and rye) which results in the immune system attacking the lining of the small intestine when gluten is ingested, even in small amounts. It is surprisingly common with around 1 in a 100 people suffering from it, however there is believed to be many more people who have not yet been diagnosed. So if you think you may suffer from it I urge you to speak to your doctor! The symptoms for Coeliac Disease can range in severity and can include diarrheoa, constipation, bloating, nausea, exhaustion, mouth ulcers and even hair loss, weight loss and anaemia. I found that I had a few mild symptoms for most of my life but they worsened considerably in the year before I got diagnosed, to the point where I think I had pretty much all of them! For more information visit www.coeliac.org.uk.
Testing for Coeliac Disease is done via a blood test followed by a gastroscopy (which is very unpleasant but completely worth it) If your tests come back positive you are then referred to a dietitian and will have regular check ups with a doctor to ensure you are managing Coeliac Disease well.
Coeliac Disease is incurable but manageable through a gluten free diet. When I was first diagnosed the gluten free food on offer was not very appetising but this has definitely improved over the years. Personally I don’t tend to buy many gluten free ready-made products as I prefer to make them myself and they often contain ingredients that set off my IBS but I understand they are constantly improving. Labelling has also got much clearer in recent years with allergens such as gluten clearly marked on packaging. Also look out for ‘may contain gluten’ or ‘made in a factory that also handles gluten’ as there is a chance there may be traces of gluten in them.
The one difficulty I find with avoiding gluten is eating out, there are so many places that are really helpful and offer gluten free menus but they pretty much all say that they are a made in an environment that handles gluten. Sometimes I have taken the risk and been fine but other times I have suffered for weeks after. Luckily there are a few places that have designated gluten free areas in the kitchen and even some cafes and restaurants that are entirely gluten free!
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is an extremely common digestive disorder but the causes are not entirely understood. The symptoms usually result from food sensitivities that cause, often painful, reactions in your gut. It can also be triggered as a symptom of stress and anxiety. Like Coeliac Disease, the symptoms can range in severity including cramps, bloating, diarrheoa and constipation. Visit www.theibsnetwork.org for more information. I was unlucky enough to have extremely painful symptoms resulting in me ending up in hospital where doctors were convinced I had Crohn’s Disease. I then had a colonoscopy procedure which resulted in a polyp being removed and me being told that I had a severe case of IBS.
After my IBS diagnosis I was not given much help by doctors, they gave me a few websites on a piece of paper and tablets to counteract symptoms which just ended up in me having the opposite symptoms instead! I then discovered the Low Fodmap Diet (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols) which has been life changing for me. It might sound like I am over exaggerating but it got to a point where my symptoms took over my life. They affected my confidence, my ability to enjoy food and can really take a psychological and emotional toll. The FODMAP diet involves avoiding certain foods, predominantly indigestible sugars/carbohydrates, that are poorly absorbed in the gut resulting in fermentation and the subsequent symptoms. I recommend checking out www.thelowfodmapdiet.com to explore this concept further. The first part of the diet is difficult as you have to avoid quite a lot of ingredients then slowly reintroduce some to see what your digestive tract can cope with. Going through the process and knowing what to avoid has made my life so much easier, it’s unbelievable that all that time I was doubled over in pain I just needed to avoid a few more ingredients! I still get occasional flare ups when I’m stressing about things, or when I eat something containing high FODMAP foods but not to the extent that I used to. Although this method worked for me I strongly recommend consulting your doctor/dietitian before making any drastic changes to your diet.
There are many other digestive conditions, namely Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) which includes Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. These diseases cause chronic inflammation of the digestive system and can often have detrimental effects on your health. After researching both of these prior to my colonoscopy I cannot describe how much I admire the people who live with these conditions. If you would like to know more about them please visit www.crohnsandcolitis.org.uk.
To learn more about digestive disorders and what to do if you think you may be suffering from one, I highly recommend checking out this easy-to-read digestive problems article: http://www.nutritionist-resource.org.uk/articles/digestive-problems.html
If you want more information about my experiences, you have recently been diagnosed and need some advice or you simply want to chat to someone in a similar situation then contact me via my email address or social media pages (link on my contact page) 🙂