By Vikki Petersen, DC, CCN
A lovely young lady, age 7, came in with her mother last August with a history of chronic stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and symptoms of ADHD. For such a young child she had already experienced more surgeries and ER visits than most of us have in a lifetime.
Beginning at age 3 during a family visit to Hawaii, she contracted a severe infection (Mononucleosis) and after that she began to experience symptoms of nausea, pain and vomiting. She was diagnosed with 26 episodes of ‘stomach flu’ during the next 3 or 4 years.
[Note from Dr. Petersen: Celiac disease is known to be triggered by a severe insult to the immune system that can occur at any time in life. Mono would certainly fit within this criterion.]
From that time forward, she was rarely without pain. A day did not go by that she didn’t complain of stomachaches. She also had bloating, gas and was severely constipated. She only moved her bowels two or three times per week. She was tired, had a poor memory, suffered from mood swings, had a poor appetite, was underweight and was diagnosed with ADHD.
She had frequent ER visits due to severe abdominal pain and vomiting that would last 6 to 9 hours. After several visits involving many tests, endoscopies and exploratory surgeries, there were no positive findings.
Finally, an ultrasound revealed a congenital (something you are born with) abnormality called Meckel’s diverticulum. This is a pouch found in the small intestine. It most frequently causes no symptoms, but when it does they are typically found before the age of 2 and are more common in boys. When it does cause problems, the symptoms are typically rectal bleeding and bad smelling stools, but pain and bloating can also be present.
Our patient didn’t have the typical symptoms, but once the condition was found it was hoped that this was the cause of her pain. Along with her appendix, the pouch was removed surgically. While the surgery was a success, after 2 months her symptoms returned, unchanged.
Needless to say, the child’s mother was extremely worried. Complications after her last surgery were life-threatening and she didn’t know what else to do. Her daughter couldn’t go to school much of the time, so she was falling behind both academically and socially.
The mother brought her child to our clinic because we were recommended by a friend. A gluten-free diet was instituted by the mother about 2 weeks before the child came to see us and an improvement was noted already.
Our plan was to put her on a modified elimination diet to remove most all potential allergic foods while awaiting the results of blood tests for celiac disease and infections of the intestine.
[Note from Dr. Petersen: Fortunately, she hadn’t been off gluten too long and test results for celiac disease were still capable of being accurate. Note from NFCA: It is recommended that you eat a normal, gluten-containing diet prior to testing for celiac. Going gluten-free before getting tested can affect the accuracy of results.]
Her blood test for celiac disease revealed a positive tTG reaction, but an earlier biopsy revealed normal villi.
As part of that same blood test, there were many positive reactions by her immune system to wheat, gliadin and several other different peptides (pieces of the gluten protein).
[Note from Dr. Petersen: Such results are commonly seen and can create confusion if one feels that a biopsy must be positive to begin a gluten-free diet. With the tTG positive in addition to the other positive reactions mentioned above, it seemed clear that a reaction to gluten was occurring. We would like to perform a genetic test in the future, but thus far the parents have not moved forward on that.]
Due to the history of infection (Mono), we also performed a stool analysis that revealed a severe bacterial infection, two parasitic infections and pinworms. These were all treated.
After 2 weeks on the hypoallergenic diet, her symptoms were much improved. We didn’t have the test results back yet, but the child’s mom was thrilled. It was the first time in years that her daughter had gone so long with very few complaints of stomach pain. She also had no nausea and her constipation improved. Her moods were also improved, and her teacher at school even commented on how much better she was doing.
After implementing a gluten-free, dairy-free diet and treating the infections, she then had zero pain for the first time in 4 years. Her nausea was also gone, her bowels began to move two times per day and she gained weight.
Her energy levels improved, she was calmer and her schoolwork improved dramatically.
She has subsequently eaten gluten a few times and has paid the price with abdominal pain, but the mother now understands the need for zero consumption.
Our next goal is to improve her nervous system to the degree that she hopefully won’t need any medication for her ADHD.
If you’d like to watch a video that the mother made for us you can view it here: VIDEO: Mother's Testimonial
About Dr. Vikki Petersen
Vikki Petersen, DC, CCN, is founder of the HealthNOW Medical Center in Sunnyvale, CA, and co-author of The Gluten Effect. Dr. Petersen has been published in national and international medical journals, newspapers and magazines for her cutting edge work in the field of non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Her commitment to increase the awareness of celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity nationally is well recognized. She has a been a featured speaker at the annual Gluten Sensitivity & Celiac Forum held in northern California. HealthNOW Medical Center is a destination clinic, treating patients from all over the country.