What are the symptoms of coeliac disease?

What are the symptoms of coeliac disease?

The symptoms associated with coeliac disease can vary widely from person to person and can also vary in severity. Some people may not experience any symptoms at all.

Possible symptoms of coeliac disease may include:

GUT RELATED SYMPTOMS

  • Diarrhoea and/or constipation
  • Excessive wind 
  • Persistent or unexplained gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea and vomiting
  • Regular stomach pain, cramping or bloating

NON-GUT SYMPTOMS

  • Nutritional deficiencies such as iron, vitamin B12 or folic acid deficiency
  • Anaemia
  • Tiredness and/or headaches
  • Sudden or unexpected weight loss (in some cases)
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Skin rash (dermatitis herpetiformis)
  • Repeated miscarriages
  • Osteoporosis
  • Joint and/or bone pain
  • Neurological (nerve) problems such as ataxia (poor muscle co-ordination) and neuropathy (numbness and tingling in the hands and feet) 

There are other symptoms to look out for in babies and young children including faltering growth or a change in growth pattern and irritability.

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Some of these symptoms can be commonly mistaken as symptoms of other conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or wheat intolerance. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guideline on IBS states that GPs must exclude a diagnosis of coeliac disease before they diagnose IBS (nice.org.uk 2015). If you have been diagnosed with IBS without being tested for coeliac disease and you are still suffering any of the symptoms above, ask your doctor to be tested for coeliac disease.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed, the first step is to make an appointment with your GP and discuss your concerns. It is important not to remove gluten from your diet until you are advised to do so by a healthcare professional.

If you have any questions please contact us here.

Getting Diagnosed

What symptoms do I need to be aware of for my child?  

Symptoms of coeliac disease can affect any area of the body and can differ in type and severity between individuals.  Symptoms can be gut-related such as diarrhoea, constipation, stomach pain and bloating, as well as non gut-related symptoms including anaemia, tiredness and mouth ulcers. Classic symptoms to look out for in babies and young children include a bloated tummy, irritability and faltering growth or a change in their growth pattern.

Undiagnosed and untreated coeliac disease can lead to health complications in children such as growth problems, delayed puberty, iron-deficiency anaemia and fatigue so it is important to get your child tested* if they are experiencing any symptoms associated with the condition.

*It is necessary to continue to consume gluten regularly throughout the diagnosis process.

How important is it to be tested for coeliac disease? 

If you are experiencing symptoms which you think are related to gluten, or think you have a gluten intolerance, it is important that you rule out coeliac disease first of all. Coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition triggered by gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley and results in the immune system mistaking gluten as a foreign body’ and causing damage to the lining of the gut. Untreated coeliac disease can lead to associated health complications such as anaemia, osteoporosis and a slightly higher risk of certain rare forms of gut cancer.

The first step in testing for coeliac disease is a simple blood test checking for coeliac antibodies carried out by your GP. If the blood test is positive, a referral to a gastroenterologist (gut specialist) at the hospital will be made for further tests. It is necessary to consume gluten regularly throughout the diagnosis process in order for the results to be accurate.

If the tests for coeliac disease are negative, it may be that you have a gluten intolerance meaning you experience symptoms related to gluten but are not at increased risk of the long-term health complications as a result of the intolerance.

What is the best treatment for symptoms of either a gluten intolerance or coeliac disease? 

The only treatment for coeliac disease or gluten intolerance is a gluten-free diet. However, those with coeliac disease must strictly follow a gluten-free diet for life in order to reduce the risk of associated long-term health complications, such as anaemia and osteoporosis, which can develop if the condition is poorly managed.

For people with coeliac disease even the smallest amount of gluten may cause symptoms to return and in the longer-term will result in damage to the lining of your gut.

For those with gluten intolerance, reducing the amount of gluten in the diet to a level that can be tolerated and reduces symptoms is sufficient. This is because there are no known long-term health complications associated with gluten intolerance.

What are common 'triggers' of coeliac disease?

Coeliac disease is caused by an abnormal immune reaction to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. People with coeliac disease have specific genes which means that they can develop coeliac disease when they eat gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley and a wide range of foods that contain these ingredients including bread, pasta, cereal, pizza, crackers and biscuits as well as less obvious sources such as ready-made sauces, canned soup, oven chips, sausages, ready meals and more.

It is also important to make sure any food you eat is not contaminated with gluten accidentally as even small quantities can lead to the gut lining becoming inflamed. There are a range of handy tips to help you avoid cross contamination whether you’re at home or eating out.

Once gluten has been removed from the diet, most people with coeliac disease begin to feel better fairly quickly. However, it can take a while for the gut to fully recover and some people may continue to experience symptoms for upto a year. If you are concerned about any symptoms you are experiencing on a gluten-free diet, make an appointment with your GP who will be able to refer you on to a dietitian.

What early warning signs do I need to be aware of?

There is a wide range of symptoms associated with coeliac disease including diarrhoea, constipation, stomach cramps, fatigue and anaemia. Therefore, it is important if you are experiencing any of these that you make an appointment with your GP to arrange a test to check if you have the condition.

As many as 1 in 4 people with coeliac disease were previously misdiagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) as many of the symptoms such as bloating, diarrhoea and/or constipation, stomach pain and tiredness are the same as for coeliac disease.

If you are experiencing symptoms and suspect you may have coeliac disease, the first step could be to take an online assessment- a short questionnaire asking about your symptoms and other risk factors. If the assessment indicates that you might have coeliac disease, the first step would be to make an appointment with your GP who can then undertake a blood test to check for coeliac antibodies.

If the result of your blood test is positive, your GP should refer you to the hospital for further tests in order to confirm a diagnosis of coeliac disease. It is important not to remove gluten from your diet during the diagnosis process.

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