I can’t remember the exact day I was diagnosed with Celiac disease. I was in my mid-20s, recently married, happy but suffering immensely from stomach related issues. Throughout my life, I had unexplained stomach and other minor health issues that never really added up. I frequently had stomach cramps that went unexplained and I developed awful canker sores in my mouth that multiplied quickly and took over my ability to eat and enjoy food. I remember one particular episode when I had about 10 – 15 canker sores at one time. I was on a European tour with my soon to be husband and enjoying the culture and beautiful scenery in Venice. Unfortunately, it was difficult to enjoy the amazing food at local restaurants as the canker sores were so painful. In hindsight, it was probably for the best that I was unable to enjoy the pasta, baguettes and other gluten-filled foods as this would have likely made things worse.
As anyone normally does when they aren’t feeling well, I visited my doctor who couldn’t provide much help – perhaps it was a virus, stress related or fatigue? No. I knew this definitely wasn’t the case and there was something more serious going on. Unfortunately, my doctor wanted to rule out these other causes prior to testing for anything else. I was quickly sent on my way to deal with these stomach cramps for another couple of weeks.
Ironically, my gut kept telling me that there was something more serious going on. I turned to my trusty medical advisor, Google, to provide me with answers. Not surprisingly, Google determined that my symptoms could be the result of a wide spectrum of issues – from cancer to food poisoning. I tried my best not to focus on the more serious diagnoses and finally stumbled upon a page regarding Celiac disease. At the time, Celiac disease was one of the most under diagnosed diseases in North America. In addition, it was noted that 1 out of 100 people in North America suffer from Celiac disease. The tricky thing about Celiac disease is that the symptoms can be wide-ranging, which makes it very difficult to diagnose. Symptoms can include but are not limited to stomach pains, weight loss/weight gain, muscle and joint pain, anemia, loss of bone density, skin rashes, damage to dental enamel, fatigue, acid reflux, heartburn and wouldn’t you know it – canker sores!
After quickly dismissing the idea of a career change into the medical field, I called my doctor and made another appointment to present my medical findings. Doctors must hate Google. I’m sure patients strut into their offices all the time with their self-diagnosed medical issues demanding drugs and treatment in order to cure them. I figured I’d take a different approach and kindly request to be tested for Celiac disease based on my symptoms. My doctor skeptically agreed and within a week, my blood results came back with the overwhelming conclusion that I had Celiac disease. Although, a biopsy of the small intestine is normally required to confirm a diagnosis, my doctor informed me that this wasn’t necessary as the blood work and my symptoms were proof enough.
I came out of the doctor’s office with mixed emotions – thrilled that I successfully managed to self diagnose my disease but devastated that this was the start of a whole new set of challenges. Luckily, my trusty friend Google was able to help get me started with some guidance and my friends and family have stood beside me throughout my gluten free journey. In fact, my parents have decided to now eat gluten free along with my brother who is unfortunately also suffering from similar symptoms.
For those who have recently been diagnosed with Celiac Disease, rest assured that you aren’t alone in your journey. There are so many great resources online and in person that you can take advantage of. I have seen a huge increase in gluten awareness and the gluten free options at grocery stores and restaurants are now plentiful. For those of you who think you have a gluten intolerance or Celiac Disease, it’s important to not take gluten out of your diet until you have been tested. If you do, the test results will not be accurate and that’s the last thing you need. Finally, you know your body the best so if you ever feel like there’s something that’s not right, urge your doctor to take tests and look further into these problems.
I would love to hear your Celiac story and how your life has improved since being diagnosed!