Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease to gluten. This means that eating gluten damages the lining of the small intestine. Other parts of the body may be affected. If gluten is not avoided, this can result in nutritional deficiencies, osteoporosis, infertility problems and bowel cancer.
Coeliac disease is common, affecting 1 in 100, but only 10-15% have actually been diagnosed. Symptoms are often similar to irritable bowel syndrome or wheat intolerance.
Possible symptoms may include:
- diarrhoea, excessive wind, and/or constipation
- persistent or unexplained gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting
- recurrent stomach pain, cramping or bloating
- any combination of iron, vitamin B12 or folic acid deficiency
- tiredness and/or headaches
- weight loss (but not in all cases)
- mouth ulcers
- hair loss (alopecia)
- skin rash (dermatitis herpetiformis (DH))
- repeated miscarriages
If you think you or your child has coeliac disease, you must keep eating gluten and speak to your GP for advice. GPs can do a simple blood test, and if positive a referral to a gastroenterologist will be made.
A dietitian can advise on the elimination of gluten from the diet. Following a life-long gluten-free diet is a major task. Provision of dietetic support is essential to assess and review nutritional issues or possible nutritional deficiencies, as well as promoting an overall balanced diet.