What is Coeliac Disease?

Celiac disease is estimated to affect 1 in 100 people worldwide with only 20% of people becoming diagnosed. It is a genetic autoimmune disorder triggered by consuming gluten, leading to the damage in the small intestine. An allergic reaction to gluten (protein found in barley, rye and wheat) is an immune response attacking the individuals small intestine – ouch!

This attack leads to damage of the villi, tiny finger-life structures that project inwards from the lining of the small intestine allowing for rapid absorption of digestion products. A damaged villi, fails to absorb nutrients correctly in the body that can lead to health difficulties such as malnourishment, infertility, miscarriages, loss of bone density – even the beginning of neurological diseases.

This protein can also be found in many other items in your every day life; lip balms, shampoo and conditioners, vitamins and medicines.

Symptoms of Coeliac Disease

Coeliac disease is different from a food allergy. Known symptoms may include any of the following and many more:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Anemia
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
  • Weight loss
  • Heartburn
  • Bloating of swelling in the belly
  • Diarrhea or pale, foul-smelling tool (steatorrhea)
  • Dermatitis Herpetiformis – affecting 15% – 25%, an intensely itchy rash that may show on your buttocks, knees or elbows.

Not everyone has these symptoms; some have no difficulty or obvious side effects making diagnosis even more difficult. It can be years before symptoms show due to the slow progression of damage to the intestines.

Testing for Coeliac Disease

There are two types of testing that Doctors use to determine Celiac Disease

  1. Serology Test – Tests for certain antibodies (also done during pregnancy)
  2. Genetic Testing – Tests for human leukocyte antigens

The toughest part, if you have self diagnosed yourself and currently maintain a gluten free diet already, you will need to come off it before having the antibody test for accuracy. If these tests come back positive, in some cases an endoscopic biopsy may be needed to validate the extent of damage on your small intestine.

Just because you have been diagnosed with celiac disease does not mean you are limited to travel, dining or socialising any differently. Become educated of what your food is made from, there are traces in completely bizarre items such as soy sauce or cross contaminating your bread in your family’s toaster. Be careful but be educated.

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