Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat, rye, barley and oats. For people who have Coeliac Disease, the immune system reacts negatively to the gluten protein. This immune response in the small bowel causes the villi (small finger-like projections that increase our ability to absorb nutrients) to become flattened and inflamed. As a result, individuals are at risk of gastrointestinal symptoms such as pain, diarrhoea and nausea, nutritional deficiencies due to malabsorption and some cancers due to the chronic inflammation.

Although there is a strong genetic link to developing Coeliac Disease, it can affect anyone at any age.

Common symptoms of undiagnosed Coeliac Disease include:
gastrointestinal symptoms (diarrhoea, constipation, nausea, bloating and abdominal pain),
fatigue, weakness and lethargy,
iron deficiency anaemia and/or other vitamin and mineral deficiencies,
unintentional weight loss and/or
altered mental alertness and irritability.

If you suspect that you, or someone you know may have Coeliac Disease, it is important to get tested. There are three steps to diagnose Coeliac Disease:

1) A gluten- containing diet. It is important that gluten remains in the diet to ensure the accuracy of the result. (If you self-diagnose and exclude gluten from your diet there is a risk of getting a false negative reading when you go for the actual testing!) If you have adopted a gluten-free diet, you must re-incorporate a normal diet for at least 6 weeks prior to the test.

2) A blood test. A coeliac serology will be taken to test for antibody levels in the blood. These antibodies are indicative of the body’s reaction to gluten and are typically elevated in people with untreated coeliac disease. A definitive diagnosis should not be made on a positive result alone to rule out a false positive blood test reading.

3) A biopsy. Finally, a biopsy of the small bowel is needed to confirm the diagnosis of Coeliac Disease. The biopsy will be able to demonstrate the typical small bowel changes of Coeliac Disease such as villi flattening and inflammation.

There is no cure for Coeliac Disease so it is imperative that once diagnosed, individuals follow a life-long strict gluten-free diet.

Your Dietitian can help you:
Understand the condition
Teach you to read food labels to identify gluten-containing products
Teach you to tailor your favourite recipes so they are safe for you to consume
Advise of supplementation regimens to correct nutritional deficiencies
Analyse your diet to ensure that you can maintain a nutritious and balanced gluten-free diet.