Coeliac Disease is not a food intolerance or an allergy, it is an Autoimmune condition.
When a person with coeliac disease eats gluten, their immune system gets confused, and attacks the small intestine. The small intestine is the area of the bowel where all of the nutrients are absorbed from your food, so when it is damaged your body is less able to get everything it needs. On top of this, the attack by your immune system causes inflammation in the small intestine, which can be painful and cause diarrhoea.
What are the symptoms of Coeliac Disease?
The symptoms of Coeliac disease vary widely from person to person. I had no symptoms at all, and was only diagnosed after my sister was, as her GP recommended the whole family should get checked. My sister was diagnosed because she was tired all the time, with bloating and stomach pains.
Other symptoms include:
- Weight loss
- Vomiting or feeling sick
Some people with coeliac disease also get a condition called Dermatitis Herpetiformis. It is not fully understood how coeliac disease is linked to this condition. Dermatitis Herpetiformis is characterised by small red or yellow bumps usually on the knees, elbows and buttocks, although they can also be on the chest and face. The lumps are severely itchy and may also have a stinging or tingling pain.
Coeliac disease is only diagnosed with a biopsy.
Usually when coeliac disease is suspected, your doctor will take blood for a test that helps them to predict the liklihood of you having coeliac disease. If this comes back positive it suggests you are more likely to have coeliac disease, but it can only be confirmed when a biopsy of your small intestine is taken. This involves a procedure called an endoscopy, where a camera is put into your mouth and down into your bowel. You are awake during the procedure which can be uncomfortable, but is extremely quick. More information on endoscopy (also known as gastroscopy) can be found here.
The only treatment for Coeliac Disease is a gluten free diet!
Gluten is found is wheat, barley and rye. The only way to relieve the symptoms of Coeliac Disease is to stick to a gluten free diet. This can seem daunting at first as gluten is found hidden in so many foods. However, the awareness of the disease, and the fact that gluten seems to be a trigger for lots of other conditions such as IBS, means that there is a huge amount of gluten free food available. Nearly every supermarket has a ‘free from’ section, and most chain restaurants have allergy menus available.
For more information about Coeliac disease and the gluten free diet, check out these pages: