Coeliac disease is not an allergy or an intolerance but an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system damages the lining of the small bowel when gluten, a protein (found in wheat, barley and rye) is eaten.
There is no cure and no medication; the only treatment is a strict gluten free diet for life. Some common symptoms of coeliac disease include:
- severe diarrhoea, excessive wind and/or constipation
- persistent or unexplained gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting
- recurrent stomach pain, cramping or bloating
- iron, vitamin B12 or folic acid deficiency
- sudden or unexpected weight loss (but not in all cases)
- mouth ulcers
- skin rash (dermatitis herpetiformis)
- repeated miscarriages
- neurological (nerve) problems such as ataxia (loss of coordination, poor balance) and peripheral neuropathy (numbness and tingling in the hands and feet)
If you've any of these symptoms, speak to your GP but continue eating gluten as part of your diet until diagnosis is confirmed.
The average time it takes for someone to get a diagnosis is 13 years from the onset of symptoms; by which time, they may already be suffering with added complications caused by the disease.
If left untreated, coeliac disease can lead to a number of serious complications, including:
- unexplained infertility
- neurological conditions such as gluten ataxia and neuropathy
- although rare, an increased risk of small bowel cancer and intestinal lymphoma