DOCTORS have discovered the cause of a severe neurological condition that has plagued a Sheffield family for at least four generations.
Isobel Dickinson, aged 62, of Wadsley, Sheffield, is the sixth person in her family to suffer from ataxia - a neurological condition that affects balance, co-ordination and speech.
The condition forced her mother into a wheelchair, and also affected her grandmother, great-grandmother, uncle and great-aunt - but they never knew what caused the illness.
Now, after four generations of suffering, doctors have discovered it was caused by intolerance to gluten - found in bread, pasta, beer and most grains.
Isobel, a mum-of-two and retired IT worker, said: “My great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, great-uncle and uncle all suffered from ataxia – all with very bad problems that severely limited their mobility.
“In later life, my mother had to use a wheelchair, couldn’t control her legs and was unable to move in bed at all. She knew she had ataxia, but the cause was never identified.”
Doctors realised the link only after Isobel fell ill and visited her GP’s surgery.
Isobel said: “I had begun to feel a bit wobbly on my feet – like I’d had a glass of wine but without the euphoric effect.
“It was worse when I was tired or when it was dark and I couldn’t see very well.
“I happened to mention my family history and my GP referred me to the Royal Hallamshire Hospital.”
Consultant neurologist Dr Marios Hadjivassiliou, who established the first clinic in the world specialising in the neurological manifestations of gluten-related diseases, diagnosed gluten ataxia.
Isobel added: “I had no idea gluten was causing my balance problems.
“I had frequently felt bloated but had no idea why. My mum had the same symptoms so I thought it was normal.
“I was told I would have to go on a strict gluten-free diet.
“It meant cutting out anything that contains gluten such as wheat, rye or barley. Just a week into my gluten-free diet I began to feel better.
“I’m convinced if I hadn’t gone on the diet I would have deteriorated like my family members did.
“I feel fitter now than I ever have.”
Dr Hadjivassiliou, who discovered gluten ataxia in the 1990s, said: “There is now substantial evidence that sensitivity to gluten can have profound neurological effects.
“Fortunately, in Isobel’s case, she was diagnosed early, so we have been able to stop her condition from deteriorating.”