Coeliac Disease

Getting a diagnosis* of coeliac disease can be overwhelming at first; there is a lot of information to take in, especially as it affects your whole diet and lifestyle.

It’s reassuring to know that once you adapt to a new way of eating gluten free, you will feel much better, and your symptoms will gradually disappear.

It’s important for your long-term health that you follow a balanced gluten free diet for life. This is the only treatment for coeliac disease.

What is 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, 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.

Dermatitis Herpetiformis (DH) is the skin manifestation of coeliac disease an occurs as a rash on certain parts of the body. The treatment for DH is a strict gluten free diet.

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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.


Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley.

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).

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

Yes. Research has found 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.

There are several symptoms which can vary from person to person and may be severe or mild.

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
  • A bloated tummy

Healthcare Professionals often 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.

Getting diagnosed

If you think 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 is it 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.

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