Despite being certain she suffered from coeliac disease actress Caroline Quentin ate gluten for six weeks in order to receive a conclusive diagnosis.
The star of Men Behaving Badly, Jonathan Creek and Blue Murder kept a video diary of what can only be described as a torturous journey, which she shared with This Morning.
After consuming what she describes as her “poison” for six weeks Caroline underwent a gut biopsy. Those with coeliac disease will wonder why on earth she put herself through this if she was already sure she had the condition.
It was all to raise awareness about the affliction she told This Morning hosts Phillip Schofield and Amanda Holden.
“I don’t want anyone to go through what I went through,” said Caroline. “I should have addressed this years ago… I think I’ve been living with it for about 30 years and it’s a horrid thing and I can’t imagine why I didn’t deal with it earlier.”
Despite having avoided gluten for three years, Caroline’s symptoms returned only 20 minutes after eating a slice of toast. She told the camera: “I’m actually starting to feel quite unwell. My gut’s making a terrible noise, my mouth is going quite dry and I’m feeling slightly faint.”
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Coeliac disease causes the immune system to attack healthy gut tissue and it’s triggered by gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. The symptoms are gruelling, affecting all aspects of the sufferer’s life.
“I had frequent nausea, mouth ulcers and skin rashes, and I often had to rush to the loo,” said Caroline. “I didn’t know about coeliac disease then and just thought I had an allergy. I went to the doctor and they said it was probably stress-related.”
“I developed anaemia and lethargy and bloating and the bouts of diarrhoea and vomiting became more frequent,” she went on. “The rashes were horrible — tender, raw pustules wherever my skin was rubbed, like under my bra. I blamed my washing powder and didn’t connect the skin problem with my digestive issues. Now I know the rashes were probably dermatitis herpetiformis, which is the skin presentation of coeliac disease. I had all the textbook symptoms.”
No medication is prescribed to treat the condition; the solution is simply to avoid gluten entirely. Which is easier said than done considering it’s in so many foods, from the obvious bread, cereal, pasta, rice, biscuits and cake to the less obvious sausages, soups, sauces and beer.
Caroline admitted that it can be difficult to avoid gluten completely but that having a slip-up is never worth it: “Most things you get offered at a party will have gluten in so it’s very hard. Even the tiniest, small grain of rice size of gluten will affect me for weeks. Your system flares up very, very quickly and quite badly.”
This Morning‘s resident GP, Dr. Chris, also has coeliac disease and revealed that he had it for over 40 years before he was diagnosed. “In the U.K. there are 500,000 people walking around with it and [they] do not know they’ve got it,” he revealed.
For those who suspect they may have coeliac disease, Dr. Chris has the following advice: “You should have a blood test for coeliac disease, do not change your diet, eat normally, have your blood test and if you have the biopsy you go back on gluten to see the damage.”
Coeliac UK’s Awareness Week (May 11 to 17) aims to find those 500,000 Brits who have coeliac disease but don’t yet know it. For more information visit Coeliac UK.