Francesca Della Penna

Francesca Della Penna

I was diagnosed with celiac disease at the age of 27. My diagnosis was quite catastrophic as I went through heart failure.

My flatmate happened to be home and made the crucial decision to call an ambulance. I arrived at the hospital with a 42°C temperature and delirium, and if she hadn’t called that ambulance, I could have died.

I spent a month in the hospital and was eventually diagnosed with the complete destruction of my intestine. Before this, the doctors were so busy looking for an infectious disease that they were too distracted to prevent dehydration and extreme weight loss. Basically, they weren’t replacing all the fluids I was losing due to diarrhea and vomiting.

When you have low values of potassium in your blood (hypokalemia), due to dehydration, your heart can stop, which happened to me.

But after my painful diagnosis, I connected the dots. As a good Italian, I always loved food containing gluten, but gluten didn’t love me back.

From time to time, I would get painful stomach aches, skin rashes, or nausea, which my GP at the time wrongly connected to anxiety and stress. Eating pizza and drinking beer always caused me pain.

Time and again, these symptoms would reappear, and my GP would suggest a few drops of Valpinax, a tranquilizer sometimes used to treat IBS.

The intermittent bloating with other confusing symptoms led my doctors to confuse it with stress-related illnesses.

Two years on, I have an incredible support network of family and friends who have sacrificed delicious gluten-based dinners to have dinner with me. I even found a passion for writing a blog that helps coeliacs and gluten intolerant to cope with the disease daily and to inspire their kitchen routines.

The diagnosis made me appreciate my health and take care of my body. I now exercise all the time, which was something I struggled with before I was diagnosed. Fatigue is generally unrelieved by adequate sleep when you have undiagnosed coeliac disease. My gluten-free diet has made me as fit and active as never before.

It took me years of tests, a month in a hospital bed, and heart failure to find out I have coeliac disease, but it has changed my life for the better.

I hope this works!