Coeliac disease is a condition where eating gluten causes an immune reaction in the small intestine, damaging the intestinal wall and reducing its ability to absorb nutrients from food. According to the Coeliac Society, around 1 in 70 Australians have coeliac disease, but 4 out of 5 remain undiagnosed.
The symptoms of coeliac disease vary widely and while some people have all or many of these symptoms, others may only have a few or none at all.
Typical symptoms include:
- digestive symptoms including wind, bloating, stomach pain or cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and constipation
- fatigue, weakness and lethargy
- deficiencies in certain nutrients, including iron, vitamin B12 and vitamin D
- weight loss
- poor weight gain, delayed growth and delayed puberty in children
- recurrent mouth ulcers
- bone and joint pains
- easy bruising of the skin
- unexplained infertility and recurrent miscarriage
- osteoporosis (low bone density)
It is more common in individuals with a family history of coeliac disease and those with other autoimmune conditions, such as type 1 diabetes and autoimmune thyroid disease.
Coeliac disease is treated with a lifelong strict gluten-free diet. Gluten is the protein found in grain foods, including wheat, rye, barley and oats. So a strict gluten-free diet means cutting out all products made from these grains, which include most breads, cereals, biscuits, crackers, pasta and noodles and a range of processed foods which may contain small amounts of gluten.
When someone with coeliac disease removes gluten from their diet, the intestinal wall can heal so that nutrients can be absorbed, and symptoms will improve. If not diagnosed and treated, coeliac disease can affect a child’s growth and development and in adults it can lead to long-term health problems including osteoporosis, infertility, miscarriage, tooth decay and an increased risk of cancers of the digestive system. Taking all steps to avoid gluten is therefore important for anyone with the condition.
If you have symptoms of coeliac disease it’s important to see your doctor to be tested. Don’t start a gluten-free diet before you see your doctor, as this makes the tests used to diagnose coeliac unreliable. The initial screening test (a blood test) requires you to have been eating gluten regularly for at least 6 weeks prior to the test.
For more information:
You can find out more about Coeliac disease, including the symptoms, diagnosis and management, by visiting the Coeliac Society: Coeliac Australia or calling them on 1300 458 836.
- Coeliac Australia: Coeliac Disease
- Coeliac Australia: Coeliac Disease Symptoms
- Coeliac Australia: Coeliac Disease Diagnosis