Coeliac disease (pronounced see-liac, spelt celiac disease in other countries) has been known about for decades but is only recently becoming more readily recognised by health professionals and by the public. It’s an autoimmune disease which means that a sufferer’s own immune system works against the body when it is triggered by the consumption of gluten, which is part of wheat (something similar is found in barley and rye, but some Coeliac sufferers are able to consume those without problems). If a sufferer consumes gluten, their gut lining becomes damaged and is unable to absorb nutrition properly.The symptoms of coeliac disease(spelt celiac in America) vary from person to person and can range from very mild to severe.
Symptoms vary from person to person in terms of severity and which types they suffer from. They include:
- diarrhoea, uncomfortable or excessive wind, constipation – often misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome;
- persistent nausea and/or vomiting, often after a period of several weeks of feeling generally low or unwell;
- cramping or acute stomach pain, sometimes with bloating
- deficiencies in iron, vitamin B12 and/or folic acid
- (in some people) weight loss
- low tooth enamel levels and mouth ulcers
- infertility and/or recurrent miscarriage
- osteoporosis, pain in the joints/bones
- ataxia (poor co-ordination) and neuropathy (numbness and tingling in the extremities)
If you are suffering from any combination of these symptoms, it is worth getting it checked out: after all, treating Coeliac disease is a matter of adjusting one’s diet, it doesn’t require anything invasive or painful, and the rewards of managing such an unpleasant and insipid illness are well worth doing without food like bread. There are plenty of gluten-free products available in all supermarkets, too, so you can still have biscuits if you need them!
To be diagnosed with Coeliac, there are specific tests. The key thing is not to stop eating gluten before you have been diagnosed, because if you stop eating it then the antibodies and other changes in your body that could lead to a positive diagnosis will not be present. So speak to your GP before undertaking any major dietary changes.
The tests available are:
- a blood test, available through your GP, that looks for either Tissue transglutaminase antibody (shortened to ‘tTGA’) or Endomysial antibody (shortened to ‘EMA’)antibodies;
- a biopsy carried out under sedative and/or local anaesthetic in hospital by a gastro-enterologist.
It is now possible to do tests at home with a Biocard, which can be purchased online or from pharmacies.