Is it coeliac disease?
What is coeliac disease?
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease caused by a reaction to gluten. When someone with coeliac disease eats gluten, the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues. This causes damage to the lining of the gut and means that the body can’t absorb nutrients properly. Coeliac disease is not a food allergy or an intolerance.
Coeliac disease affects 1 in 100 people in the UK but only 30% have been diagnosed which means there are nearly half a million people who have the condition but don’t know it.
Treatment of coeliac disease
There is no cure and no medication; the only treatment is a strict gluten free diet for life.
Symptoms of undiagnosed coeliac disease include:
Undiagnosed coeliac disease causes a wide range of symptoms and it affects people in different ways.
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stomach cramps
- Weight loss/gain
- Regular mouth ulcers
- Skin rash
Diagnosis of coeliac disease
The average time it takes for someone to get a diagnosis is 13 years from the onset of symptoms; by which time, they may already be suffering with added complications caused by the disease. If left untreated, coeliac disease can lead to a number of serious complications, including: anaemia, osteoporosis, unexplained infertility, neurological conditions such as gluten ataxia and neuropathy, and although rare, there is an increased risk of small bowel cancer and intestinal lymphoma.
If you are experiencing symptoms, see your GP for a blood test, which checks for the antibodies produced in undiagnosed coeliac disease. The test will only work if you have gluten in your diet, so it is essential not to start a gluten free diet until you have completed the testing for coeliac disease, otherwise you may get an incorrect result.
If the initial blood test for coeliac disease is positive, your GP will refer you to a gastroenterologist for further testing to confirm the diagnosis.
Norma McGough Coeliac UK director of policy, research and campaigns said:
“It is essential that awareness of the similarity of the symptoms increases and that GPs adhere to the NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) guideline which states that anyone with IBS symptoms should be tested for coeliac disease before a diagnosis of IBS is made.
“The first step to diagnosing coeliac disease is a simple, inexpensive blood test, but thousands of people are not getting the necessary testing and are being left undiagnosed, including those with IBS symptoms. This not only causes years of unnecessary suffering but also wasted costs to the NHS with repeated appointments and investigations.
We urge anyone who has symptoms such as ongoing bloating, diarrhoea or constipation and has been given a diagnosis of IBS but not been tested for coeliac disease to ask their GP to test them for coeliac disease. However, it is essential to keep eating gluten until all tests are completed as otherwise these tests may give a false negative result.”
Worried you may have undiagnosed coeliac disease?
Firstly, you might find it useful to take Coeliac UK’s online assessment. This short self assessment will take you through the symptoms of coeliac disease and other risk factors and recommend whether you should be tested for the condition (www.coeliac.org.uk/isitcoeliacdisease )
Coeliac UK is the national charity supporting people with coeliac disease and supports its 65,000 strong membership base with information and advice, fundraising, supporting new research developments, and campaigning to improve access, availability and quality of gluten-free food.
Membership, which is open to everyone who needs to live gluten free, provides a wide range of services including:
- access to comprehensive gluten free food and drink information
- an extensive gluten free recipe service
- advice on where to eat out gluten free with our Gluten Free On the Move app
- easier shopping with our Gluten Free Food Checker app
- magazines and publications
- and much more!
Find out more or join online: www.coeliac.org.uk/join-us/membership/
Helpline: 0333 332 2033 website: www.coeliac.org.uk
The charity has very active followings on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram
Photo of Norma McGough provided by Marianne Earthy – https://earthyphotography.co.uk
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