University of Dundee

Comic to raise awareness of coeliac disease

16 May 2019

The University of Dundee’s renowned comics artists and writers have produced a new publication raising awareness of the serious and much misunderstood autoimmune condition coeliac disease. ‘Understanding Coeliac Disease’ will be launched on Thursday 16 May to mark Coeliac Disease Awareness Week. The 24-page comic seeks to make more people aware of what it is like to live with coeliac disease, the only treatment for which is a strict life-long gluten free diet.

Professor Jenny Woof from the School, proposed a collaboration with the comics team to help promote enhanced understanding of the disease. The publication will be distributed both digitally and in hard copy to GPs, caterers, workplaces and schools. The aim is to reach audiences who would benefit from developing a better understanding of coeliac disease and the challenges of a gluten free diet.

The team worked closely with the charity Coeliac UK and the finished comic includes five real-life stories of people with coeliac disease reflecting on how the condition affects everyday life so that more people can understand its challenges, such as receiving a diagnosis, eating out and school life.

Dr Golnar Nabizadeh, Lecturer in Comic Studies at the University, said, “This collaborative project brought together the comics team, Professor Jenny Woof, Coeliac UK, and a range of people living with coeliac disease, allowing us to share their stories. It has provided a fantastic opportunity to bring together lived experience and expertise to help raise awareness about coeliac disease.”

Coeliac disease causes the body to react to gluten found in food containing wheat, barley, rye or oats. The symptoms from eating gluten affect multiple parts of the body, from regular gastro issues such as diarrhoea, stomach cramps and vomiting to ongoing fatigue, frequent mouth ulcers and anaemia. One in 100 people in the UK have the condition, but only around a third have a diagnosis. For those who are diagnosed, having to avoid gluten in every single meal for the rest of their life brings with it many challenges.

The comic also highlights the importance of people being diagnosed, particularly if they have Irritable Bowel Syndrome-related symptoms as one in four people with coeliac disease are misdiagnosed as having IBS. The first story in the comic looks at the story of Lynsey Penny’s struggle to obtain a coeliac diagnosis, having been wrongly diagnosed with IBS. 

Lynsey, from Dundee, said, “Despite telling the doctor about my mum already having coeliac disease, I was still misdiagnosed as having IBS. I remained in pain and it was quite a stressful time. I hope through sharing my story in the comic that it may help others avoid years of suffering, pointless medication and feeling helpless by raising awareness of the symptoms of coeliac disease”.

Myles Fitt, Scotland Lead at Coeliac UK, said, “This is a unique way to explain to the general public the challenges faced by people with coeliac disease and we are delighted to have helped shaped such a fabulous comic. Eating out is challenging, as is having coeliac disease in a workplace, school or university environment. The publication also highlights that many people with coeliac disease are incorrectly diagnosed with IBS. If you are suffering from IBS symptoms such as severe diarrhoea, excessive wind, constipation, bloating or stomach pain and cramps, then this may be undiagnosed coeliac disease. I urge anyone with these symptoms to ask their GP for a coeliac disease blood test if they have not already had one.”

This publication is the latest in a series of public information comics produced by the University that aim to raise awareness of health and social issues with previous publications dealing with organ donation, bereavement, fibromyalgia and suicide awareness.

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