Introduction to Coeliac Disease
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease that mostly affects part of the gut called the small intestine.
What is Coeliac Disease?
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease that mostly affects part of the gut called the small intestine. It is caused by a reaction between gluten and the cells lining the small intestine, resulting in inflammation. It affects approximately 1 in 100 people in the UK and can affect anyone at any age. It is commonly diagnosed in those aged between 50 and 69. Coeliac disease can often run in families and is also more common in those who suffer from another autoimmune disease.
What causes Coeliac Disease?
The cause of coeliac disease is sensitivity to gluten. Gluten is found in wheat, rye and barley and is therefore found in common foods such as bread, cereal and pasta. Antibodies are made against gluten in the immune system of coeliac disease sufferers. These antibodies attack the lining of the small intestine and lead to inflammation.
What are the symptoms of Coeliac Disease?
The inflammation of the small intestine means that food and nutrients cannot be properly absorbed. This causes a number of symptoms. In babies symptoms develop when the baby is weaned onto food containing gluten. The baby may not gain weight or grow properly and have gastro – intestinal symptoms such as diarrhoea, pale/ bulky stools, swollen abdomen and vomiting. In children the symptoms may be similar to those in a baby. Vitamin and iron deficiencies can cause anaemia and other symptoms. Diarrhoea may be present and the faeces may be pale and difficult to flush. In adults other common symptoms include: bloating, diarrhoea and tiredness. Weight loss may occur in severe cases.
A blood test can be done to detect a certain antibody that causes coeliac disease. If this is positive you may be referred to a gastroenterologist for a biopsy of the small intestine to be taken. Other tests include a blood test for anaemia (low iron).
How is Coeliac Disease treated?
The main and most common treatment for coeliac disease is a gluten-free diet for the rest of your life. The symptoms usually go within a few weeks on this treatement. A gluten free diet is a diet that excludes wheat, barely and rye. A dietician should give you advice on what foods to avoid and what foods are acceptable. In addition to a gluten free diet you may be advised to take nutritional supplements such as iron, vitamins and calcium for the first 6 months after diagnosis. This is to replace any deficiencies until the gut lining returns to normal.