Coeliac disease is often undiagnosed. So if you suffer from bad bloating, bowel problems, fatigue and mouth ulcers, it might be worth getting checked out.
1. One in 100 people in the UK has coeliac disease, with that figure rising to one in 10 for close family members of those with the condition. However, the charityCoeliac UK estimates that only 24% have been diagnosed, leaving around 500,000 people in the UK who don’t know they have the condition.
2. Coeliac UK’s Awareness Week (11-17 May) hopes to change that with the backing of the charity’s new patron, actress Caroline Quentin, who was recently diagnosed herself. ‘Coeliac UK’s campaign to reach the half a million people still undiagnosed with coeliac disease really resonates with me because I had problems for years and had no idea why.’
3. Symptoms can include bloating, abdominal pain, nausea, wind, constipation, diarrhoea, chronic tiredness and weight loss. But the severity of these symptoms can vary dramatically from mild to severe, and can develop gradually, or be triggered by a stressful event or gastric infection.
4. Coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition caused by an intolerance to gluten – a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. For those with the condition, eating it damages the lining of the gut, prevents normal digestion and vitamin and mineral absorption, and can lead to serious health problems if untreated. Foods to avoid if you have coeliac disease include breads, pastas, flours, cereals, cakes and biscuits.
5. Until recently, experts thought coeliac disease was the only condition that was triggered by gluten, but it seems some people may also suffer from non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, which causes similar digestive problems. These seem to improve by following a gluten-free diet.
6. So what if this sounds like you? The advice is not to self-diagnose but to discuss your symptoms with your GP, who can arrange a blood test. It looks for antibodies produced in response to gluten, so it’s important not to follow a gluten-free diet before you are tested, or you could get a false negative result.
7. If the test is positive you will be referred for further investigations and will need to follow a gluten-free diet for life. If the result is negative and you don’t have coeliac disease but still have symptoms, you might want to reduce the amount of gluten you eat to see if that helps, but remember it’s still important to eat a healthy balanced diet.
8. You can also check out Coeliac UK’s new online self-assessmentquestionnaire. After completing it you will receive an email with the results which will show whether your symptoms could be linked to coeliac disease.