Coeliac Disease: Everything you Need to Know in 5 Minutes

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Coeliac disease is a condition where a person’s immune system abnormally reacts to gluten which causes damage to the small bowel. Gluten is a natural forming protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats.

The small bowel is made of finger-like components called villi. For someone with coeliac disease these villi become flattened and inflamed when gluten meets these villi (see picture: Reprinted with permission from Coeliac Australia (www.coeliac.org.au)).

Healthy Villi
Healthy Villi

Damaged Villi
Damaged Villi

This can lead to serious health consequences if it is not diagnosed and treated properly including the inability to absorb the nutrients from our food.

Did you know?

1 in 70 Australian’s have coeliac disease, but 4 out of 5 people (or ~80%) remain undiagnosed!

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms can vary considerably in coeliac disease and may include diarrhoea, constipation, nausea, bloating, flatulence, low iron levels, tiredness, unexplained infertility, hair loss, low levels of vitamins and minerals, mouth ulcers, bone and joint pain and depression. If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor.

Diagnosis

It is essential to diagnose coeliac disease as soon as possible. Gluten must be completely removed from the individual’s diet which requires lifestyle changes and refining skills like interpreting nutritional information on food labels, so it is important to begin treatment and adjustment early. Screening for complications of coeliac disease is also required, once diagnosed with coeliac disease.

To be diagnosed, it is essential that the person being tested continues to eat gluten. If a person were to stop eating gluten during diagnosis, then the tests for coeliac disease may return as negative to coeliac disease. A diagnosis is made from a blood test and a biopsy from the small intestine.

Treatment

If you are diagnosed with coeliac disease, you will have to adjust your diet to be strictly gluten-free. Once gluten is removed from the diet this allows your intestine to heal and over time it will improve any symptoms. Although a person with coeliac disease would require the removal of some foods from their diet, there are many foods that can be included such as:

  • Fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Fresh meats
  • Eggs
  • Nuts
  • Legumes
  • Milk
  • Fats and oils
  • Rice
  • Corn

If you have recently been diagnosed with coeliac disease, we recommend that you visit an Accredited Practising Dietitian to properly adjust to and manage your new diet. An Accredited Practising Dietitian will work with you to ensure that you and your family make a realistic and effective transition to a gluten-free diet.

For more information about coeliac disease go to Coeliac Australia (www.coeliac.org.au) or speak to your GP about a referral to an Accredited Practising Dietitian at Black Swan Health.