Coeliac Disease

Coeliac disease is not a food allergy or intolerance. It is an autoimmune condition which occurs in people who become sensitive to the protein gluten.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Eating foods containing gluten such as bread, pasta and breakfast cereals has a life-long damaging effect on the bowel and includes symptoms such as constipation, diarrhoea, sickness (vomiting), stomach cramps, tiredness, weight loss and anaemia.

Coeliac disease was once considered a rare condition of childhood. However, doctors are now diagnosing more people later in life. Research shows that the disease may affect as many as 1 person in every 100, with the majority of those un-diagnosed.

1 in 10 relatives of a person diagnosed with coeliac disease may also be affected, so family screening is recommended.

WHAT IS DERMATITIS HERPETIFORMIS?

Dermatitis Herpetiformis (DH) is a skin condition linked to coeliac disease. A red raised rash, often with blisters, most commonly seen on the elbows, knees and buttocks.

The treatment for both coeliac disease and DH is to follow a strict gluten free diet.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of coeliac disease or DH, do not make any changes to your diet until you have spoken with your doctor or healthcare professional so they can make sure you get a proper diagnosis.

FACTS ABOUT COELIAC DISEASE

What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in these common grains - wheat, rye and barley.

What causes coeliac disease?

Coeliac disease is caused by the immune system reacting to the protein gluten.

Eating foods that contain gluten affects the body’s ability to absorb the important nutrients from food.

Eating foods that contain gluten has a life-long damaging effect on the small intestine (bowel).

Who can get coeliac disease?

Coeliac disease is a common condition affecting children and adults of any age.

Does coeliac disease run in families?

Yes. Research has established that there is a genetic link to coeliac disease. One in ten relatives of a person diagnosed with coeliac disease may also be affected, so family screening is recommended.

What are the symptoms of coeliac disease?

The symptoms of coeliac disease can affect any area of the body, can vary from person to person, and may be severe or mild. This is why healthcare professionals call coeliac disease a multi-system disorder.

Common digestive symptoms

  • Stomach pain (bloating or wind)
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Sickness (nausea & vomiting)

Sometimes the symptoms can be confused with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Symptoms in the rest of the body

  • Low iron levels (anaemia)
  • Tiredness
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Tooth enamel problems
  • Weight loss
  • Osteoporosis
  • Joint / bone pain
  • Infertility (repeated miscarriages)
  • Low mood (depression)
  • Liver defects
  • Headaches
  • Neurological problems (ataxia, neuropathy)
  • Skin rash (Dermatitis Herpetiformis DH)

Symptoms in children

  • Diarrhoea
  • Pale coloured poo (healthcare professionals call this stools)
  • A bloated tummy.
  • Healthcare Professionals describe children as ‘failing to thrive’ which means they have a lower than normal rate of growth for height and weight.
  • Children with undiagnosed coeliac disease will often be very irritable.
  • Older children may have less obvious symptoms.

IF YOU ARE EXPERIENCING ANY OF THE SYMPTOMS HERE, DO NOT MAKE ANY CHANGES TO YOUR DIET UNTIL YOU HAVE SPOKEN WITH YOUR DOCTOR OR HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONAL SO THEY CAN MAKE SURE YOU GET A PROPER DIAGNOSIS.

How to get diagnosed

  • If you are worried that you might have some of the symptoms of coeliac disease, make an appointment to visit your GP who will arrange for you to have a simple blood test.
  • If the blood test is positive for coeliac disease, your GP will normally arrange for you to have a biopsy in an out patient clinic.
  • In a biopsy, a small section of the lining of the bowel is taken and a Gastroenterologist will assess the results.
  • It is important that you continue to include gluten in your diet for your diagnosis to be confirmed.

Why it is important to get diagnosed?

Complications of coeliac disease may occur in those who have taken a long time to get diagnosed or when people continue to eat gluten (inadvertently) after diagnosis. These include osteoporosis, malnutrition, infertility, lymphoma and small bowel cancer.

Coeliac disease is also closely associated with other pre-existing medical conditions such as Type 1 diabetes and auto immune thyroid disease.

If you are concerned about any of these complications or pre-existing related conditions, please seek medical advice.

What is the treatment for coeliac disease?

The treatment for coeliac disease is a life-long gluten-free diet.

What to do after you are diagnosed with coeliac disease