Could you have coeliac disease? The signs and symptoms

It's Coeliac Disease Awareness week - could you be one of the half a million sufferers that have not yet been diagnosed?

Have you noticed that free-from sections in supermarkets are growing? As people become more aware of intolerances to food allergens, their requirements are being catered for.

But, according to the charity Coeliac UK, only 24% of the people with the debilitating autoimmune condition coeliac disease, which is caused by a reaction to gluten, have been diagnosed. That means there are around 500,000 people in the UK suffering without knowing why.

Gastroenterologist Professor David Sanders, says: “While there has been a fourfold increase in the rate of diagnosed cases of coeliac disease in the UK over the past two decades, approximately three quarters of people with the condition (that’s half a million Britons) remain undiagnosed.

“Symptoms like bloating, vomiting and fatigue can be associated with gluten-related disorders, which are managed by following a gluten-free diet.

“As awareness, education and diagnosis continue to improve, it is imperative that people who need to follow a gluten-free diet have access to a broad range of gluten-free foods to cater for their needs.”

Gluten-free food just got better: TV chef Phil Vickery on why he’s making it mainstream]

Signs and symptoms of coeliac disease

Diarrhoea or foul-smelling, greasy and frothy faeces, which might be hard to flush away. The most common symptom of coeliac disease is diarrhoea, according to NHS Choices, because the body can’t absorb nutrients properly, known as malabsorption. This can also lead to high levels of fat in your stools, known as steatorrhoea, which is what can make them smell and look greasy.

Other symptoms include:

  • Bloating or abdominal (stomach) pain.
  • Flatulence and a noisy stomach.
  • Weight loss.
  • Tiredness and fatigue, which may be a sign of iron deficiency anaemia or folate deficiency anaemia.
  • Tingling and numbness in your hands and feet (peripheral neuropathy).
  • Vomiting (this usually only affects children).
  • Swelling of your hands, feet, arms and legs caused by a build-up of fluid (oedema).

If the condition is untreated, you could become malnourished, which would make you tired and lacking in energy – and can slow the growth rate in children.

Another sign to look out for is an itchy skin rash, with blisters that burst when scratched, known as dermatitis herpetiformis, which usually appears on elbows, knees and buttocks, and affects around one in five people with coeliac disease.

Getting diagnosed

Katie Kennedy, dietician for gluten-free brand Schär, says you should consult your GP if you think you are gluten-intolerant.

[Read more: 27 very real struggles only coeliacs will understand]

“If you think you’re suffering from poor health as a result of eating gluten, always speak to your GP about your symptoms and request a blood test for coeliac disease before removing gluten from your diet,” she says.

“Cutting gluten before being tested will provide a false negative result.

“If your coeliac tests are negative, gluten may still be the cause of your symptoms – you may be suffering from non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, an increasingly recognised medical condition with similar symptoms to coeliac disease.”

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