Coeliac Disease is a rare condition which requires the sufferer to maintain a strict life-long avoidance of gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, barely and rye
Coeliac Disease is different to an allergy or intolerance as such and is known as an auto-immune condition. This essentially means that the body’s immune system that should be attacking bacteria and viruses, wrongly thinks that gluten is harmful to the body and so starts a process to destroy it. However, in this it actually breaks down the lining of the small bowel which means that suffers cannot absorb the nutrients from the diet they need.
This disease will often first be diagnosed when an individual presents with digestive problems such as diarrhoea, constipation or pain in their stomach. Or other symptoms such as iron deficient anaemia which doesn’t resolve with supplements. In young children, coeliac disease may prevent a child from growing at the expected rate – this is known as ‘failure to thrive.’
Following any initial concerns that an individual has coeliac disease, their GP will then refer them to a gastroenterologist. This is a consultant who works with digestive health problems. They will then have a blood test and a biopsy of the small bowel will be taken. It is important the individual does not follow a gluten-free diet until they have had these tests carried out. This is because these tests essentially look for damage to the gut caused by gluten and if you remove gluten then the tests will come back negative anyway. Having a formal coeliac disease diagnosis is very important to ensure you get the follow-up care needed and this is very different to someone who has a gluten intolerance.
Once a diagnosis has been made, input from a dietitian will be needed to ensure that the individual’s diet is gluten free, balanced and high enough in calcium. They will also be able to ensure that any nutrient deficiencies are corrected. Luckily, with a strict life long gluten free diet, all previous damage can be reversed meaning that the gut will heal, allowing all food to be absorbed as it should be. Although, it should be noted that if the diet is not kept strict there is an increased risk of bowel cancers in the future.
If you would like to book an appointment for dietitian advice around coeliac disease today then please contact me.
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