Coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition that causes the body’s immune system to attack its own tissues. Gluten triggers this immune reaction and causes the lining of the small bowel (gut) to become damaged – it may affect other parts of the body too.
There are generally two types of very obvious reactions: extreme diarrhoea that lasts days, or painful bloating of the stomach and abdomen combined with constipation. There are many other less obvious symptoms and they vary from person to person and can range from very mild to very severe.
They include nausea; excessive wind; heartburn; indigestion; constipation; any combination of iron, vitamin B12 or folic acid deficiency; tiredness; headache; weight loss (but not in all cases); recurrent mouth ulcers and hair loss.
Other symptoms include skin rashes (dermatitis herpetiformis- ‘DH’), defective tooth enamel, osteoporosis, depression, infertility, recurrent miscarriages, joint or bone pain, neurological (nerve) problems such as ataxia (poor muscle co-ordination) and neuropathy (numbness and tingling in the hands and feet).
The only way find out if you have coeliac disease is to see your doctor and get tested.
People with coeliac disease must adhere to a strict gluten free diet.
Only a gluten free diet will allow the small bowel to heal and the villi to stand up and start absorbing all of our vitamins again.
20ppm (parts per million) is considered the safe/acceptable limit for people with coeliac disease, but each person’s exact tolerance level will be slightly different. After diagnosis, it is important to stick to a gluten free diet, even if you have no adverse symptoms. Some people don’t suffer any obvious symptoms but gluten can still be doing damage to you body that you can’t see.
It can be tough!
Living with coeliac disease: learn to listen to your body
Conditions associated with coeliac disease are diabetes and thyroiditis. If you have coeliac disease and you are suffering from strange, inexplicable symptoms then consider whether you may have developed either of these conditions. If you are generally under the weather and starting to live life from the sofa, this is a tell tale sign that something is wrong. It may just be that your iron levels are low, which can be determined with a simple blood test but generally, you need to keep a close eye on things with the help of your GP.
Some of the symptoms of diabetes are increased thirst, increased need to urinate and losing weight for no reason but there are many, many more. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, please go to the doctor and ask for a test for diabetes. It may seem like a pain and ‘yet another’ health issue to deal with but it’s very important because diabetes is extremely dangerous if it goes untreated.
Symptoms of thyroiditis include excessive fatigue, poor appetite, inexplicable weight gain or loss, dry skin, mood swings, hair loss, depression, insomnia, over heating, joint pains.
Following your diagnosis with coeliac disease, the first step will be with your GP, who will discuss with you whether you need to see a dietician or be offered a bone density scan. This scan is similar to an x-ray and it checks the density of the bones in your hip joint. It should tell you whether you have symptoms of osteoporosis. This is incredibly important to find out. If your bone density is lower than it should be then you may need to go on a course of high calcium supplements to ward off osteoporosis in later life.
After diagnosis, you may be offered some gluten-free products on prescription and/or supplements. If not raise this with your GP.
You may also want to explore the extensive Coeliac UK website, which offers an array of help in every area.