Coeliac disease is a common bowel condition with serious complications if untreated. Unfortunately, the great majority of affected adults are undiagnosed.
In coeliac disease, the cells lining the small bowel become damaged when exposed to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and possibly oats. This can lead to symptoms such as diarrhoea, bloating, wind, loss of weight and chronic tiredness.
Coeliac disease interferes with the absorption of important nutrients such as folic acid, iron, calcium and vitamin B12, which can lead to anaemia or osteoporosis. It can also cause mouth ulcers, repeated miscarriages, infertility and certain cancers.
Who should be tested?
- People with the above symptoms or medical conditions.
- Those with a close family member with the disease, as it often runs in families.
- People with type 1 diabetes, Down's syndrome and some thyroid and liver disorders, as they have increased risk.
Initial testing is with a simple blood test by your GP. If this is positive, a biopsy of the small bowel is performed by passing an instrument from the mouth to the upper bowel under a light anaesthetic (endoscopy).
Treatment of coeliac disease
Coeliac disease is treated by a strict, lifelong gluten-free diet. Consulting a dietitian is recommended for advice on how to select gluten-free foods and read food labels.
Gluten is found in breads, cakes, biscuits, pastas, cereals, beer and many commercial foods. Many gluten-free and low-gluten products are now available.
Contact the Coeliac Society at http://www.coeliac.org.au/ or visit http://www.gesa.org.au/.
Please note this information was correct at time of printing.
For up to date information, speak to your doctor.