Coeliac awareness Week – Spot the signs and symptoms

Coeliac Awareness Week

Coeliac awareness week takes place between 9 and 15 May and this years’ theme is to #ShineALightOnCoeliac. 1 in 100 people in the UK have coeliac disease but only 36% are diagnosed.

Most people don’t like to talk about it, but having a gastrointestinal problem is common. The digestive system, also known as the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, begins at the mouth and includes the oesophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine (also known as the colon) and rectum, ending at the anus. The entire system — from mouth to anus — is about 30 feet (9 meters) long. Digestion is important because your body needs nutrients from food and drink to work properly and stay healthy.

What you need to know about coeliac disease

Coeliac disease is a serious autoimmune condition. When people with the disease eat gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley and rye), their body attacks its own tissues. If left untreated, it can cause gut damage and serious health complications like osteoporosis. The only treatment is a strict gluten free diet for life. But you must keep gluten in your diet until you’re officially diagnosed. You need to be eating gluten to get an accurate result. But the good news is that once diagnosed and on a gluten free diet, symptoms usually start to improve quite quickly.

Symptoms of coeliac disease

  • Stomach problems, like pain, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, or excessive wind
  • Persistent or unexplained nausea and vomiting
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Anaemia
  • Any deficiencies of iron, vitamin B12 or folic acid
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Sudden or unexpected weight loss (but not in all cases)
  • Skin rash (dermatitis herpetiformis)
  • Tooth enamel problems
  • Liver abnormalities
  • Unexplained subfertility (not getting pregnant after a year of trying with no clear reason why)
  • Repeated miscarriages
  • Neurological (nerve) problems such as ataxia (loss of coordination, poor balance) and peripheral neuropathy (numbness and tingling in the hands and feet)

Diagnosis

Routine testing for coeliac disease is not recommended unless you have symptoms or an increased risk of developing them.

Testing for coeliac disease involves having:

  • Blood tests – to help identify people who may have coeliac disease
  • A biopsy – to confirm the diagnosis

While being tested for coeliac disease, you'll need to eat foods containing gluten to ensure the tests are accurate. You should also not start a gluten-free diet until the diagnosis is confirmed by a specialist, even if the results of blood tests are positive.

Our specialist diagnostics suite provides safe and rapid access to tests and scans when you need them.

Treating coeliac disease

There's no cure for coeliac disease but following a gluten-free diet should help control symptoms and prevent the long-term complications of the condition.

Even if you have mild symptoms, changing your diet is still recommended because continuing to eat gluten can lead to serious complications. This may also be the case if tests show that you have some degree of coeliac disease even if you do not have noticeable symptoms.

It's important to ensure that your gluten-free diet is healthy and balanced.

An increase in the range of available gluten-free foods in recent years has made it possible to eat both a healthy and varied gluten-free diet.

Ahead of this World Digestive Health Day, which takes place on 29 May, find out about the different types of gastrointestinal problems by reading our article which looks at nine of the most prevalent digestive conditions, their symptoms, and the most effective treatments available.

Further information about coeliac disease

If you or a family member has a digestive health problem, there is support and information available. To find out more about our self-pay gastroenterology procedures, get in touch using our online enquiry form or by calling our Private Patient Team on 01580 363158.

Published on 12 May 2022