A special public information comic aims to help raise awareness of coeliac disease, a serious but often overlooked condition. The body’s immune system reacts to gluten, a protein found in food containing wheat, barley and rye, making the body attack itself. One in 100 people have coeliac disease but half a million people in the UK and over 36,000 people in Scotland are undiagnosed.
The idea for the comic, Understanding Coeliac Disease, came from Dundee University’s comics studies team (the only university in the UK to offer such a course) – the past few years has seen the team publishing public information comics as a novel means of communicating social and health issues to wider audiences, using student illustrators.
Inspired by Professor Jenny Woof’s (School of Life Sciences at the university) research interest in coeliac disease, and particularly in raising awareness about the condition, the comic contains five short comics from members of the local community, including adults and children, about their experience with coeliac disease.
Alongside these stories, the collection provides an introduction to coeliac disease, tips and facts about the condition, a dietitian’s perspective, and a page of resources on the subject.
Myles Fitt, Scotland lead at Coeliac UK has worked closely with the university in developing and shaping the content.
“The comic features five different stories all using the real life experiences of people with coeliac disease who live in the Dundee and Tayside area,” he explains. “It’s a fantastic way to explore coeliac disease to help people understand what it is like to have the condition and the challenges of living a life-long gluten free diet. I hope the comic will help more people suffering symptoms get a diagnosis and help develop better awareness about how coeliac disease impacts on people daily living.”
Dr Golnar Nabizadeh, lecturer in Comics Studies and project lead for the comic, explains: “Comics are sometimes perceived as being reading material primarily for children. Although there are many works designed for an adult audience, the entertainment provided by comics belies the more complex interaction between reader and story, and the beautiful images, also help make the stories more memorable.
“This is ideal for conveying concepts and ideas in an alternate form to pamphlets and other, more conventional, reading materials.
“The comics are each drawn by a different artist based at Ink Pot Studio in the Dundee Comics Creative Space – and they look amazing!” she smiles.
As Coeliac Awareness Week comes to an end, Myles and Golnar hope the comic will shed more light on what it’s like to live with coeliac disease, the only treatment for which is a strict life-long gluten free diet.”
One of the stories features Simon O’Loughlin and his family who live in Scone. Simon, secretary of Coeliac UK Tayside Local Group, takes up the story: “I’m a father of four, two of whom are diagnosed with coeliac disease and one who has a wheat allergy and so we all follow a gluten free diet.”
Simon himself wasn’t diagnosed with coeliac disease until I was 40 years old, in 2011.
“I was tired all the time and really quite thin despite eating lots and drinking sugary drinks. I also struggled to play sport due to aching limbs,” he recalls.
“Doctors suspect I had undiagnosed coeliac disease for many years, possibly my whole life. My symptoms had previously been put down to IBS, even though I had most of the typical symptoms including gastrointestinal symptoms, iron and B12 deficiency, anaemia and mouth ulcers,” he continues.
“In my late 30s I felt so ill that I kept going back to the doctors until one sent me for further tests.”
He reveals the new diet was tricky to become accustomed to at first, but once he got used to it the change it made to his health and his life was amazing.
“The symptoms stopped within six months and I had enough energy to take up sports I hadn’t being able to play for years,” he smiles.
Simon is excited his story features in the comic, “especially as the comic publishers have featured us as a family, I’m excited to see how the illustrators have depicted us all.”
He hopes the comic will inspire people who have IBS, or other symptoms, to talk about the possibility of it being coeliac disease with their doctor, go to coeliac.org.uk or take Coeliac UK’s online symptom assessment at isitcoeliacdisease.org.uk
“One in four people with coeliac disease are misdiagnosed with IBS,” he says. “Coeliac disease can lead to serious long term health conditions and it’s important to get diagnosed.”