I don’t have coeliac disease; but what do I have?

Those who were waiting with baited breath for the follow-up post to this will doubtless be glad to hear that I don’t have coeliac disease. The acid test, as it were, is to look for antibodies in the blood: if your level is normal (and after three months, mine was) then you don’t have coeliac disease.

This is a great relief for me, because coeliac disease is the one potentially damaging option among the many that might be giving me trouble. In the long term, alongside the many chronic symptoms, the lower gut can be permanently damaged. Worse, the repeated triggering of coeliac symptoms – internal inflammation, basically – correlates strongly with dermatitis herpetiformis (a kind of extreme eczema), osteoporosis and cancers of the digestive system. It was definitely worth the three months’ discomfort of eating wheat, in order to get a negative diagnosis.

Such a diagnosis, however, leaves me with the mystery: what’s wrong with me, then? It’s still not clear – nonspecific IBS is as much a shrug as a description of symptoms – but the months spent eating wheat, with peppermint tablets to ease discomfort, have helped me at least circumscribe the problem.

For a start, the tablets actually worked to a limited extent; if it had been coeliac disease, they wouldn’t have worked. IBS is a kind of gut equivalent of the muscle tremors you can sometimes get in your eyes, and peppermint oils, if preserved past the acids of the stomach and into the intestines, can help quieten those tremors. Licorice also has a relaxing effect on smooth muscle, which is the closest euphemism to the truth that you’re likely to find in this blogpost. I can, however, neither confirm nor deny the effect of amyl nitrate on IBS. Probiotic drinks like Actimel have also helped me; the extent to which that’s psychosomatic or specific to my digestion is open for debate. 

Most importantly, I’ve noticed that food other than wheat has a noticeable detrimental effect, which I had seen before but largely put down to coincidence, or a kind of stimulated co-morbidity; always my reaction to wheat obscured anything else. Specifically, caffeine gives me the same windy looseness as wheat and especially beer, and any combination of those three can provoke an alimentary disaster. The more processed, and the easier to absorb quickly, then the worse the reaction. Alcohol has a mild combinational effect with other things, as do what I call “white carbs”: sugary food, chips, and obviously super-processed white bread.

With the peppermint tablets, I can eat small amounts of all of these. I have to be careful with bread, because I love hot buttered toast and can almost consume it without realising it. But as long as I don’t have bread with espresso coffee, or beer with a pasty, then I’m fine. Even if I very occasionally do, then it’s up to me to suffer the immediate consequences and try not to do it again. IBS isn’t exactly a picnic, unless you have a particularly unusual taste in outdoor cuisine, but I can live with it; and if I don’t yet know what I’ve got, I’m happy knowing what I haven’t got.

“TMI!” you might be saying. “You’re sharing too much!” you might add, if pronouncing abbreviations makes you even uncomfortable. Well, maybe so. But since my own problems began, and especially after my mother’s diagnosis of breast cancer, I have abandoned my squeamishness. Suffering in silence is to suffer twice, and your silence will not help you. Besides, there’s far worse than this on the internet, and for not as good a reason either: this post at least might help someone else in a similar situation to me, to work out both what they might have, and also how to get it checked, and maybe even cured.

… Right. I promise that’s the last time I blog about having the shits.

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