A grandmother who was plagued by an unexplained condition for over ten years was left in tears after finally receiving a diagnosis.
Judy, 71, from Kent, appeared on BBC2 show The Diagnosis Detectives, which airs tonight, where she revealed how her life has been a misery since surgery for achalasia in 2008.
The disorder affects the movement of food along the gullet, but after corrective surgery Judy was left feeling constantly nauseous, unable to eat proper meals, and she would constantly vomit ‘bright yellow bile’ after consuming any food.
The grandmother underwent years of misdiagnosis and four unsuccessful operations to try and explain her condition, which had left her ‘skin and bones’ after she lost over a stone and a half in weight.
After a round of tests ordered by Consultant Gastroenterologist Dr Ray Shidrawi, it was revealed she has a damaged vagus nerve, which manages some of the complex processes of digestion.
Judy, 71, from Kent, (pictured) was plagued by an unexplained condition for over ten years, which left her feeling constantly nauseous, unable to eat proper meals
The grandmother was left in tears after she was diagnosed with a damaged vagus on BBC2 show The Diagnosis Detectives
‘It was like I had a golfball stuck down my throat and I was choking,’ said Judy of her original condition, achalasia.
But her surgery only left her with lasting issues that have plagued her life for a decade.
She went on: ‘I have to vomit, bright yellow bile and it’s bitter and disgusting. It’s very frustrating when nobody can help with you, nobody knows. It’s dreadful. I just want someone to help me find out what it is.’
Before seeing Dr Shidrawi, Judy feared she would be diagnosed with cancer, and called her unexplained illness ‘debilitating’.
‘I felt well all my life until this started and it’s just debilitating,’ she said. ‘I miss spending time with my grandchildren. I don’t have the energy to be charging around after them now. I’m losing weight and that’s what’s worrying me. The big C comes to mind.’
Dr Shidrawi ordered two more tests; one measuring her production of polypeptide an another testing how long food takes to leave her stomach through a gastric emptying study (pictured)
Her daughter Jayne added: ‘Now she’s skin and bone, it’s just gonna kill her really.’
After years of failing to get a diagnosis, Judy visited The Wellington Hospital in North London, where she was introduced to Dr Shidrawi.
He suspected that her original surgery may have caused damage to the nerve, and ordered a test which would reveal how acidic Judy’s stomach was, to see whether messages sent from the nerve to the pancreas were sending properly.
After receiving the news that she could have a potential diagnosis, Judy was seen busting into tears on the phone to her daughter, overwhelmed that she may finally have discovered what her illness is.
Speaking on the phone, she says: ‘The doctor says it’s something called the vagus nerve that isn’t working properly and he thinks there is a way he can get me better. He’s not promised 100 per cent, but I’ll be having tests.’
Judy visited Wellington hospital in North London Consultant Gastroenterologist Dr Ray Shidrawi (pictured)
However, Dr Shidrawi admitted that proving her condition would be difficult, because he would have to reply on indirect functional tests, not commonly done in clinical practice.
He confessed: ‘Diagnosing vagal injuries is really difficult because we don’t have a blood test or a way of measuring it directly. We have to rely on indirect functional tests and they’re not commonly done in clinical practice, I dread to think what Judy will think if I have to go back and say I was wrong.’
The first test revealed that Judy’s stomach produces a lot of acid, meaning that her vagus nerve is working to some extent.
Despite the setback, Dr Shidrawi ordered two more tests; one measuring her production of polypeptide, and another testing how long food takes to leave her stomach through a gastric emptying study.
Desperate for a diagnosis, Judy revealed how her condition has left her the lowest weight she’s ever been.
What is the vagus nerve?
The vagus nerve is the longest and most complex of the cranial nerves, running from the brain through the face and thorax to the abdomen.
It plays multiple roles including the management of complex processes in the digestive tract.
The vagus nerve signals to the muscles in your stomach to contract and push food into the small intestine.
A damaged vagus nerve can’t send signals normally to your stomach muscles. This may cause food to remain in the stomach longer, rather than move normally into your small intestine to be digested.
The vagus nerve can be damaged by diseases, such as diabetes, or by surgery to the stomach or small intestine.
Source: Mayo Clinic
‘Monday morning I was the lowest I’ve ever been’, she told. ‘8st 11lbs and I can see it in my shoulders and in my arms, and it’s understandable because I’m not eating as much as I was.
‘I’m desperate to find out of anything can be done to get me back to being a healthy human being again.’
Revealing her final diagnosis, Dr Shidrawi revealed that her second test had shown that Judy’s stomach took nearly three hours to empty by half, an hour longer than it should normally, causing her body to vomit back up her food.
His polypeptide test also fit with the theory her vagus vein was not sending messages correctly to the pancreas and stomach when controlling gastric emptying.
He said: ‘After all these years we can tell you what the problem is and why you are suffering the way you are, there is no doubt in my mind there has been some damage to the vagus vein.
The show brings together 12 top medical consultants (pictured) to diagnose unexplained conditions
‘The next step is to bring you in here and hopefully we can make a difference.’
It isn’t possible to repair the damage to the nerve, however Ray hopes to ease her nausea by operating on the valve on the bottom of Judy’s stomach, so that it empties more easily.
Reflecting on the diagnosis Dr Shidrawi said: ‘It was a very important moment, it was “Yes we’ve got it, yes we can fix Judy, yes we can help her”.
‘To see her reaction, her eyes welled up, her husband’s eyes welled up, we’re privileged to share that moment with them, because in that split second she knew there was a reason she was feeling like that.
‘She wasn’t going out of her mind, it never ceases to amaze me how emotional that moment is and how grateful patients are and the satisfaction I get from telling them something nobody else has.’
The Diagnosis Detectives airs on BBC2 this evening at 9pm