Preston has had its own Coeliac UK support group launched to help people with the auto immune disease. AASMA DAY talks to Anna Reid-Strang who initiated the formation of the group after being diagnosed with coeliac disease while pregnant with her son.
As a teenager, Anna Reid-Strang was plagued with stomach problems and feeling uncomfortable and in pain became a regular part of her life.
Anna, now 28, who lives in Lea, Preston, with partner Phil Reid and two-year-old son Finlay, recalls: “For most of my teenage years, I had issues with my tummy as I had stomach aches and felt uncomfortable and was either going to the toilet too frequently or not being able to go at all.
“I went to the doctors on quite a number of occasions but they just put it down to poor diet or the fact that I was overweight.
“Then from the ages of about 20 to 26, I just left it and plodded on. I accepted my stomach problems as part of my life.”
However things came to a head when Anna was about 23 weeks pregnant in August 2011 and went on a week’s holiday to Egypt with Phil.
Anna remembers: “Both myself and Phil became ill in Egypt and put it down to eating different foods.
“But when we came back home from holiday, Phil became better but I didn’t.
“I had chronic diarrhoea and because I was pregnant, the doctor was concerned and wanted to get to the root of what was causing it.”
Anna, who is a specialist support worker at Caritas Care working with vulnerable adults with profound medical and learning needs, was signed off work and underwent a series of tests.
Anna’s doctor arranged for her to be tested for coeliac disease and iron levels and the tests came back positive for coeliac disease.
Anna says: “I had the classic coeliac symptoms of lethargy, diarrhoea and tummy cramps and was also very low on iron.
“After loads of different tests, they finally checked me for coeliac disease. The test came back positive but I had to wait until I’d had my son – in January 2012 – and finished breast feeding before I could have the gut biopsy to confirm my diagnosis.”
By August 202, Anna had had a dexa scan and seen a gastroenterology consultant and a dietician and adopted a gluten free lifestyle.
Anna remembers: “Changing to a gluten free diet was really hard at first and I sought out support from Facebook and Twitter.
“Like anything else, it is a learning curve and after you get used to it, it becomes a way of life.
“Sometimes, it can be tricky such as when you go out for a meal. Some restaurants and chains are fantastic and have a gluten free section.
“But at many places, you have to ask. My partner is a chef so he asks how things have been cooked for me to make sure they’re gluten free.
“It seems like I am being fussy, but I am not. I am just being careful so I don’t become ill. It is all about raising awareness. People don’t realise how even a crumb could make me ill.
“At home, I have my own margerine and spread and no one is allowed to even use them to butter their crackers.
“My great aunt was a coeliac too so it’s definitely in my family.
“Since being diagnosed, I feel much better and have totally changed my diet. I also went on a diet and lost five stones. Being diagnosed with coeliac disease is probably the best thing that happened to me. It has helped me become more aware of what I put in my body and I’ve become much more health conscious as a result.
“I have a lot more energy and feel well again instead of feeling sluggish and groggy all the time.”
After realising the nearest Coeliac UK group was in Blackpool and Fylde, Anna asked Coeliac UK if a Preston group could be created and she is thrilled a new group has now been launched.
Anna set up the Facebook group Preston and Lancashire Coeliac Disease Support to make connections with other coeliacs living locally.
She says: “I wanted to get in touch with people locally going through the same things as me, getting to grips with a gluten free diet and living with coeliac disease.
“We can help each other so much with support and even just sharing things like where there’s a chippy that does gluten free batter!
“Having met up with people from the Facebook group a few times, we decided to approach Coeliac UK to set up an official group supported by the charity.
“It hasn’t taken all that long to do and already we’ve got strong group of volunteers who are giving up their time to make the group a success.”
Miranda Brooks, Coeliac UK’s head of volunteering says: “Our local groups are a very important part of our support network to members with coeliac disease and dermatitis herpetiformis.
“They are a great source of information locally and bring people together to share their experiences of living gluten free and support one another.
“It is always exciting to launch a new local group such as the Preston one. We have more than 400 members in the area.”
For more information, contact Coeliac UK on 0845 305 2060 or join the Facebook group Preston & Lancashire Coeliac Disease Support.