Coeliac Factsheet

Coeliac disease is an auto-immune condition that stops the body from processing gluten normally. Gluten is found in wheat, rye, barley and oats. Processed foods such as bread, cereals, biscuits and pasta may contain gluten as well as a hidden ingredient as a thickener.

Coeliac disease causes the villi (small finger-like projections) on the bowel walls to become inflamed and flattened. This auto-immune response damages the villi causing villous atrophy and making it difficult for the bowel to absorb nutrients.

If untreated, the disease can cause osteoporosis, fertility problems, liver disease, cancer and other auto-immune diseases.

It is estimated that up to 2% of the population has Coeliac Disease. The troubling issue is that 70-85% of people are either undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with other conditions. In addition, it usually takes up to 7-10 years for the correct diagnoses to be made. At this stage there may be significate and potentially irreversible damage.

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms of coeliac disease can range from non-existent to mild or severe, and may include:

gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhoea, constipation, bloating, flatulence, abdominal pain and nausea
chronic anaemia (iron deficiency)
vitamin B12 or folate deficiency (tested here)
unexplained weight loss or weight gain
growth problems
tiredness and irritability
delayed puberty
mouth sores
skin rashes
joint and bone pain
fatigue, weakness and lethargy

Coeliac disease should also be considered when the following risk factors or associated conditions are present:

Early-onset osteoporosis
Unexplained neurological symptoms
Unexplained infertility or recurrent miscarriage
First degree relatives of people with coeliac disease
Persistently raised liver enzymes with unknown cause
Autoimmune disease e.g. type 1 diabetes, autoimmune thyroid condition
Dental enamel defects
Down’s or Turner Syndrome

Coeliac is associated with other autoimmune disorders and vice versa. Your health practitioner should consider this association. Type 1 Diabetes is the most closely associated disorder. Close relatives of someone with coeliac disease have an increased risk of developing the disease (estimated at up to 10%).

AUTOIMMUNE DISORDER                                           INCREASED THE RISK
Addison’s Disease                                                                             6%
Arthritis                                                                                              1.5-7.5%
Autoimmune Hepatitis                                                                   6-15%
Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis                                                                 4-6%
Idiopathic Dilated Cardiomyopathy                                             5.7%
IgA Nephropathy (Berger’s Disease)                                            3.6%
Multiple Sclerosis (MS)                                                                   11%
Sjogren’s Syndrome                                                                          2-15%
Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus                                                                  2.4-16.4%

 

Testing

  • Prior to the blood test, you need to consume gluten-containing foods, at a rate of 2 slices per day or equivalent. If your stop eating gluten they may return a false negative on their blood tests. You will need to have a ‘normal diet (including gluten) for six weeks prior to testing.
  • Blood tests will measure the antibody levels in your blood. Usually, these are higher than normal if you have coeliac disease.
    If your result is positive for antibodies to gluten, then further testing should be considered with your health practitioner.