It's been over two years since I finally found out what was destroying my body from the inside out. I had a history of stomach problems and when my symptoms became bad enough to feel justified going to the doctor, was told that I had gastritis, which is essentially an enflamed stomach lining. Antacid medications were prescribed and I was sent on my way. The medications seemed to work at first, but eventually my symptoms came back. Each time my "gastritis" came back, it was worse than the time before. I felt bloated, my head hurt, I was nauseous, and my insides felt like they were on fire. My skin also reacted by producing patches of red, itchy, flakiness. Around 2003, the symptoms began to include mind-crushing migraines. To combat the migraines, a neurologist put me on an anti-seizure medication and told me to stop eating yogurt, bananas, chocolate, and to eliminate caffeine from my diet. I did as I was told but my stomach problems and migraines continued.
By the Spring of 2006 my health had deteriorated to the point that my body finally had enough. What felt like another attack of "gastritis" quickly evolved into fever, and sharp, stabbing pains on the right side of my abdomen. I ate antacids like candy to no avail, and had to sleep sitting up otherwise I'd wake up choking on stomach acid. I was admitted into the ER and went through a battery of tests, which indicated inflammation in my stomach (a shocker!) and small intestines. They attributed it to gas, gave me yet another script of antacid medication and sent me on my way. The medications didn't work at all and I continued to get worse.
By June of 2006 I began to lose weight. In addition to the pain, headaches, nausea, and bloating, I began to experience new and disturbing symptoms. I could no longer look at computer screens without feeling dizzy, and everything that moved produced a visual tail. I started to feel like I was losing my mind, or tripping on some kind of hallucinogen. Food began to scare me, since many things I ate made my symptoms worse. In the course of three months I dropped from an unhealthy 212 pounds to 165 pounds. I still sought out the help of doctors, now mainly gastroenterologists, who once again put me through a variety of tests. I had an MRI, CAT scan, at least 20 different blood tests, an endoscopy, a colonoscopy, parasite tests, and neurological tests. Nothing produced answers. Frustrated physicians began to blame me for my symptoms, telling me that I needed to seek the help of a psychiatrist or a counselor. There was nothing more disheartening to be told that all your physical symptoms are in your head, that the pain and discomfort you are feeling are not real. I've got to admit that I did a lot of praying during those months.
By the end of October 2006 I began to experience excruciating pain when I had a bowel movement, which was often accompanied by fresh blood. I again returned to the hospital, only to have physicians shove their fingers in my anus, which was extremely painful due to my rectal tearing, as well as a bit embarrassing as I'm sure those of you who've had the same procedure know, and told that there was nothing wrong with me. It wasn't until I brought in a picture of my toilet bowl filled with blood did my gastroenterologist begin to explore possible dietary causes of my symptoms. One of which was a test for gluten-antibodies. I asked him why and he informed me that I may have something called Celiac Disease. Celiac Disease, he said, was an auto-immune condition created by the body's inability to digest gluten. Gluten was a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and possibly oats.
Although my test came back "inconclusive," I decided to try and avoid eating gluten anyway. What could I lose? I was desperate. I had taken every medication given to me, as well as put myself through a variety of herbal dietary detoxification regimens, and stupidly enough, even fasted. Nothing helped. However when I eliminated gluten, I quickly noticed results. Within three days my rectal bleeding stopped, and in a few weeks I was having pain-free bowel movements! However, gluten had taken its toll on me. When I visited my mother for Christmas of 2006, she began to cry as soon as she saw me. The last time she had seen me I was over 200 pounds, so seeing me at 145 pounds must have been quite a shock! We cried together and I told her not to worry, because I felt that I had finally found out what was killing me. As I avoided gluten my health began to slowly improve.
Once I started researching gluten and Celiac Disease, I found that my negative physiological reactions to non-gluten foods were caused by a condition called "leaky-gut syndrome." In people with Celiac Disease, gluten creates an auto-immune condition where the body begins to attack the villi (hair-like structures lining the intestines used for moving food particles and facilitating the absorption of nutrients), eventually flattening them. As conditions become worse, the intestines become severely inflamed and eventually begin to tear and create fissures.
Severely damaged intestines also produce neurological conditions. Not only did I have a hard time looking at computer screens, something of a liability when in graduate school, but when I closed my eyes I saw what looked like strobe-lights flashing in my peripherals. Stores with a lot of visual congestion, like bookstores, made me dizzy. I was also seeing trails. When I moved my arms, even slowly, a visible trail resulted. It was worse with cars, birds, and anything else that moves. But worse than all of that was the fogginess I felt in my mind. It was so hard to concentrate on anything that I suffered chronic headaches from the strain of trying to focus my attention. To sum it all up, it completely SUCKED!!!
It's been over two years of healing now and I'm still not feeling as good as I did before I became ill. Some days are much better than others, but in general I always feel a little bit off. However, I feel unbelievably better than I did when things were at their worse, so I'm extremely grateful. I'm sure it took many years to have led to how sick I became, so it will most likely take quite a while to repair the damages. I eventually accepted the reality that there was no magic pill to make me instantly better. I realized that the rest of my life would be somewhat of a dietary challenge, especially when it comes to traveling. But as some wise person once said, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. I'm sure as new gluten-free products are introduced and awareness of Celiac Disease increases, living with dietary restrictions such as mine will get easier and easier. I just hope that I'm able to help as many people as I can have an easier time adjusting to gluten-free living.
Does this story sound similar to your or a family members? You might have celiac disease, find out now, take our celiac disease symptoms checklist.