A university student who put her vomiting and diarrhoea down to boy troubles and excessive partying only discovered she had Crohn’s disease after her bowel nearly perforated.
As she prepared to begin her second year at the University of Birmingham, Lucy Aitkins, 20, from Sutton, Surrey, realised she was losing weight rapidly – shedding 10kg in six months without trying – but put that down to losing some lockdown weight.
And when Lucy, an English and Drama student, started vomiting regularly after the new term began in October 2021, she thought she was clubbing too hard and drinking too much alcohol on nights out with her friends.
And she ignored the diarrhoea she was suffering too, deciding that must just be down to stress over some “boy dramas” she having at the time.
It was not until she rang her mum Jackie Aitkins, 53, in excruciating pain in April this year that she finally saw a doctor.
Lucy said: “When I rang my mum, I was getting sharp pains in my abdomen which I told her I was having to breathe through.
“That was a warning sign to my mum that something was seriously wrong,
“She said that was a coping technique for women in labour and was not normal for me to be doing.
“Now that I’m on proper treatment, I feel like myself again and I’m excited to start my final year of uni next week.”
For Lucy, her first inkling that something was wrong was when she realised she had lost weight in September 2021, but she only became concerned around Easter this year when she finally weighed herself.
She said: “Over the summer before second year, I started losing weight but I had gained a little bit during lockdown so I assumed this was me just going back to normal.
“I was also going to the toilet more than normal but at first, it didn’t seem serious.
“It was only when I weighed myself that I saw I’d lost 10kg.”
But as the term began, Lucy admits she pushed her concerns to the back of her mind.
She said: “I was vomiting regularly, especially after a night out, so I assumed it was just too much alcohol.
“When I Googled the symptoms of IBS I saw that stress could play a role so I thought my diarrhoea might just be down to boy drama.
“At the time, I was looking to be in a relationship and going on dates but none of the boys I was meeting wanted anything serious, and I couldn’t find any nice boys.”
But while Lucy tried to ignore her health issues, she says that the symptoms got worse over the academic year and by spring her weight had plunged to around 6st 3lbs and her dress size had become a loose-fitting size 6, which she said made her “look 13-years-old” and left her feeling constantly tired.
But Lucy did not want her classmates or housemates to know about her health problems.
“I didn’t really tell anyone as I didn’t want people to worry,” she said.
“I walked around the house in a thick dressing gown or would be in the kitchen heating ready meals so I don’t think my housemates noticed the weight loss.
“But the pain in my stomach was secretly becoming unbearable and it was affecting my studies, to the point where I even starting fall asleep in lectures.”
After clubbing until 4am one night in spring 2022, Lucy woke up unable to walk, but still alarm bells did not ring.
She said: “The next couple days, I just iced my feet and rested them in the hope that they would recover quickly.
“I still didn’t make the connection between this and the diarrhoea because it seemed like a completely different problem.”
Needing a break and support from her mum and dad Terry Aitkins, 60, a police worker, she headed home over the Easter break in April.
She said: “By the time I went home for Easter, I was feeling quite ill but I did manage to put on a bit of weight from home cooking – getting back to around 105lbs (7st 7lbs) – while I was back in Surrey.
“I told my parents about my weight loss and diarrhoea but I just thought it was IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and nothing serious.”
But two weeks after returning to university following the Easter break, Lucy rang her mum in agony.
She said: “I was scared because the pain was so bad and I explained to my mum that I was breathing through it.”
Alarmed, Lucy’s parents drove to Birmingham from Surrey to bring her home and once there, she saw her local GP who referred her to Epsom General Hospital.
There, doctors were concerned that Lucy could have bowel cancer and advised a colonoscopy.
Lucy said: “I was terrified and had to wait two weeks back at uni before the procedure, which was a very scary time.
“But during the colonoscopy, I was told that it was Crohn’s Disease and that I was very lucky because my bowel had nearly perforated.
“They told me if it it did, I would have needed surgery and a stoma bag. It would have been quite dangerous as well as it can cause internal bleeding.”
Lucy spent the next five nights in hospital as medics got her inflammation under control.
She said: “I didn’t really know what Crohn’s was before that day, the only thing I knew was that the comedian Pete Davidson had also been diagnosed with it.
“After five days, I was able to go home and now, I go back into hospital every two months to have an infusion of medication and I also take daily iron and calcium supplements.”
In a survey by charity Crohn’s & Colitis UK, almost a quarter of people said Crohn’s or Colitis had stopped them from reaching their full potential in education.
Fortunately for Lucy, she was able to get her studies back on track and says she now feels like her normal self again.
Lucy said: “I only missed one exam during the ordeal which I was able to sit two weeks ago and now, after passing them all, I’m excited to start my final year.
“I feel so much better and the treatment seems to be working. I’ll have the infusions for a year before doctors reassess how I’m doing.”
And Lucy hopes to encourage other people to seek medical advice if something does not seem right.
She said: “I would really like to highlight the importance of seeing a doctor if you do experience a change in bowel movements.
“Hearing my Crohn’s be described as severe and at high risk of perforation when it was eventually caught was very scary.
“I urge anyone to seek medical advice if they notice worrying changes with their body.”
Lucy documents her health journey in a blog, visit: www.living-with-crohns.blogspot.com