Coeliac awareness - spot the signs and symptoms

Coeliac Awareness Week

According to Coeliac UK, one in 100 people in the UK have coeliac disease, a serious autoimmune condition which is triggered by eating gluten. But did you know that only 36% of those people are diagnosed? Read on to learn more about coeliac disease so you can identify the symptoms and discover how our gastroenterology and rheumatology treatments and diagnostic tests can help:

What you need to know about digestion

Digestion is important because your body needs nutrients from food and drink to work properly and stay healthy. 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 (nine metres) long.

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)

How is coeliac disease diagnosed?

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

As previously mentioned, 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.

Further information about coeliac disease

If you or a family member has a digestive health problem, there is support and information available. Your GP can refer you to our hospital for a private diagnostic endoscopy by completing the referral form.

To find out more about our self-pay gastroenterology procedures or rheumatology service get in touch using our online enquiry form or contact our Private Patient Team via Livechat or on 01580 363158.

Published on 11 May 2023