Coeliac is a common condition affecting up to 1% of Australians. People with coeliac disease react to a protein called gluten which is found in wheat. When exposed to gluten people with coeliac disease have an immunological reaction that causes inflammation and damage to the small bowel. This can cause symptoms including bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhoea and weight loss. Untreated coeliac disease can cause a variety of problems including deficiency of important nutrients such as iron and folate, osteoporosis and increase the risk of developing cancer in the bowel. The majority of people with coeliac disease are unaware that they have the disease.
Coeliac disease is usually diagnosed in children and young adults but can be diagnosed at any age. Coeliac disease runs in families and there are genes that increase the risk of developing coeliac disease. Blood tests may be the first clue that someone has coeliac disease and some antibody tests are quite accurate however the diagnosis should always be confirmed by having a gastroscopy to take biopsies from the affected part of the small bowel. It is important that people stay on a diet containing gluten until the diagnosis has been confirmed.
Fortunately coeliac disease can be controlled by avoiding gluten in the diet. Because even small amounts of gluten in the diet are sufficient to keep the disease active a strict gluten-free diet under the guidance of an accredited dietician is advised.
For more information see the Coeliac Australia website: www.coeliac.org.au