I am still reeling from the astounding response to my last blog post, Dear BBC Controller. When I asked you, my wonderful readers, to share what I had written in a hope of raising some much-needed awareness about EGID, I have to admit to only expecting the odd person to possibly share the link on Facebook with a few of their friends and nothing prepared me for what happened next. From the 20 shares that I know about, that post gathered momentum and I experienced a fantastic demonstration of exactly what social media can do. Within 48 hours of publication, that blog was viewed by over an amazing 1,800 people across 33 countries and the statistics are still creeping up on a daily basis. I have been humbled by this response to my plea and I can do nothing more than extend my heartfelt thanks to you all.
One of the things I realised, however, is that I have never given a comprehensive explanation of EGID and that my last blog post may have left new readers wondering what on earth all the fuss was about. Those of you who follow my blog will have an understanding of how this chronic illness impacts our lives and for those who know our family personally, you have probably had a brief explanation of the disease along the way. In that last blog post I didn’t want to go into the finer details of what exactly EGID is, so now I want to set the record straight, so to speak, and explain in a little more detail M’s condition.
EGID, or Eosinophilic Gastro-Intestinal Disorders, are a complex and chronic group of digestive system disorders caused by an abnormally raised level of eosinophils within the gastro-intestinal tract. Eosinophils are an important type of white blood cell, which normally help the body fight off certain infections and parasites and are typically involved in attacking the causes of allergic reactions, thus protecting the body. In some individuals, the body produces too many eosinophils in a particular part of the GI tract, which leads to chronic inflammation and can cause extensive tissue damage in that area. It is currently thought that there is both auto-immune and genetic involvement in EGID, but further research will be needed to confirm these links. Like many inflammatory bowel diseases, EGID is a classic waxing and waning condition, meaning that the symptoms and their severity can change on a daily basis.
This family of rare diseases is diagnosed depending on where in the GI tract the elevated eosinophilic count has been found:
- Eosinophilc Oesophagits (EE or EoE) – in the oesophagus and is the most commonly diagnosed form of EGID
- Eosinophilic Gastroenteritis (EG) – in the stomach and/or small intestine
- Eosinophilic Enteritis (EGE) – in the small intestine
- Eosinophilic Colitis (EC) – in the large intestine (colon)
This last one is the type that M has been diagnosed with, which means he has, in typical M-fashion, a relatively rare type of a rare chronic illness. Statistics are not readily available as it was only first recognised during the first half of the 20th century, but over the last 20 years, cases have been recorded in the UK and there are currently in the region of 700 cases looked after at Great Ormond Street Hospital. This suggests around 2,000 diagnosed cases across the UK as a whole and there are also known cases of EGID in other countries, including Australia and Canada, with a starting point of 3,000 people diagnosed in the USA.
Symptoms of EGID include:
- Blood and/or mucous in the stools
- Stomach pains
- Mouth Ulcers
- Asthma attacks
- Sore throat
- Joint Pains
- Failure to thrive
- Sudden weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Mood swings
- Excessive sweating/body odour
- Loss of colour in the skin
- Dark rings under the eyes
None of these symptoms is exclusive to EGID and not all are experienced by all patients. We had noticed a number of these with M in the years leading up to his diagnosis and it was the odd combination of them – diarrhoea, poor weight gain, joint pains, mood swings, excessive sweating, body odour and dark shadows under his eyes – that led to our conclusion that this could well be what he had.
As eosinophils are part of the body’s response to allergic reactions, it comes as no surprise that many people with EGID also struggle with a varying level of food and environmental allergies. What makes it even harder is that these allergies can also wax and wane and therefore can change over the years. When M was diagnosed we were asked to put him on a MEWS (Milk, Egg, Wheat, Soya) free diet, which is a common starting point for those with EGID. Over the years, we have also had to remove gluten, potatoes, raisins and raspberries from his diet to try and alleviate his symptoms and we still don’t seem to have the answer to whether this list is complete or not. Some of the lovely families we have met through FABED have had to go a step further and remove all foods from their child’s diet due to a constant flare-up of their EGID. These brave children are now tube-fed an elemental diet in an attempt to help them feel better and grow stronger.
These families have to cope with numerous hospital visits, regular hospital stays, invasive diagnostic procedures such as colonoscopies and endoscopies, tube-feeding, colostomies, huge amounts of medicines daily and the unavoidable emotional fall-out from children who long to be just like their peers. All of this is why it’s important that the media realises that EGID is not about “Mr Allergies” and why such factually inaccurate portrayals of chronic illnesses are problematic for this EGID Mum.
If you are interested in finding out more about EGID, you can also look at these sites:
***Breaking news – today I received an e-mail response to my complaint from the Holby City series producer. He has offered to look into the research done for this story-line and will discuss it with me, over the phone, later this week***