A young mum has told how doctors thought she had an eating disorder when she was suffering from a life-threatening condition preventing her from swallowing food.
Hayley Laughton, 23, was referred to an eating disorder service and dieticians while doctors battled to find out why her weight had plummeted to just over 5st. However, after she was admitted to Hull Royal Infirmary after suffering a seizure in Spain caused by dehydration and starvation, she was finally diagnosed with achalasia, a rare condition where food is unable to pass into the stomach.
Hayley, who is mum to four-year-old Riley, said: “Every time I tried to eat, nothing would stay down and it felt like I was suffocating. It was an absolute nightmare.
“I suffered with it for almost two and a half years and the doctors put it down to anorexia and problems with my mental health. They even gave me tablets for depression.
“I finally saw a doctor who suspected it might be achalasia and I was just so relieved to know what it was. They’ve told me it’s a really rare condition but I don’t want anyone else to have to go through what happened to me.”
Achalasia is a disorder of the oesophagus where the muscles stop working properly to allow food to pass into the stomach. Affecting about 6,000 people in Britain, it is a condition mainly found in older women and it is rare for young women like Hayley to develop the condition.
Hayley, who lives in Bransholme with her family, first developed problems swallowing her food in 2013 and started losing weight. However, after a year, her weight had plummeted to five and a half stone and she was unable to even keep down a sip of water.
She said: “I used to live in my bedroom because I couldn’t eat anywhere else because I was sick all the time. I was passing out and it used to upset my son so much to see me like that.
“He used to rub my back and say ‘Please don’t be sick, Mummy’.”
Unable to lead a normal life, Hayley had to give up her job as a sales advisor and went to doctors countless times for help. She was referred to eating disorder specialists, saw dieticians and underwent a range of tests and scans but the problem with her oesophagus never showed up.
In August, she went on a 17-day holiday with her family to Spain but was forced to come home after just four days following a seizure and she was admitted to Hull Royal Infirmary suffering severe dehydration.
“I was in and out of hospital and then I was referred to another specialist for a second opinion,” she said. “He said he had seen this condition once before but it was very rare.”
Hayley underwent tests and a “barium swallow” which confirmed she had achalasia. She had an operation in December to allow food to pass from her oesophagus into her stomach and she now weighs a healthy nine and a half stone.
“It’s made a real difference and I’m able to eat and drink now, although I still struggle with things like bread,” she said. “They have said achalasia will never go away, but this operation is a way of coping with it and improving my quality of life.
“It’s been an absolute nightmare and I just want to raise awareness about the condition to help other people who might be going through what I went through.”