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Coeliac Disease

Coeliac Disease

The small intestine is responsible for absorbing food and nutrients. Coeliac disease is a condition in which the lining of the small intestine is damaged by foods that contain gluten. This leads to difficulty absorbing important nutrients; this problem is referred to as malabsorption. Gluten is a protein that can be found in wheat, rye, barley, and oats.

Coeliac disease affects approximately 1% of the population. Although Coeliac disease cannot be cured, avoiding gluten usually stops the damage to the intestinal lining and the malabsorption that results. Coeliac disease can occur in people of any age and it affects both genders.

What are the symptoms of Coeliac Disease?

The symptoms of Coeliac disease are variable between individuals and reflects the degree of damage to the small bowel. People with mild disease may be have no symptoms whereas those with severe disease may show symptoms and signs of malabsorption, such as diarrhoea, weight loss and nutrient deficiencies such as iron deficiency.

Who gets Coeliac Disease?

People are born with a genetic predisposition to Coeliac disease. However, not everyone with the genes will develop Coeliac disease. A first degree relative of someone with coeliac disease has a 10% chance of also having the condition. Environment is also an important factor. Coeliac disease is more common in Caucasians and people from the Middle East. It is uncommon in Asians.

How is Coeliac Disease diagnosed?

Coeliac disease can be assessed by a number of different tests. The easiest test is a blood test which acts as a screening tool. However to make a definite diagnosis of Coeliac disease biopsies of the small bowel need to be obtained at gastroscopy.

What is the treatment for Coeliac Disease

The best treatment for Coeliac disease is a strict lifelong gluten free diet. This should only be commenced once the diagnosis is made. A referral to a specialist dietician is recommended.

Supplements may also be required to correct any micronutrient deficiencies. Bone mineral density may be performed to investigate for osteoporosis.