What is Coeliac Disease?

Some people are sensitive to a protein in cereals called gluten. When eaten, gluten causes changes in the lining of the upper part of the intestine which impairs its ability to absorb nutrients from food. The condition is therefore sometimes called gluten sensitive enteropathy (intestinal damage). For many years the condition has been recognised in children and called coeliac disease, though it can manifest itself at any age.

How common is it?

In Britain, the condition affects approximately one in a thousand people. It is more frequent in parts of Ireland. Its frequency is increased among family members of a person affected. The condition also occurs among people from abroad, especially from northern India. The frequency of gluten sensitivity is greater than expected among people with some other disorders, particularly those with diabetes who need insulin.

What are the symptoms?

In childhood, the condition most commonly presents between 9 months and 3 years of age after the introduction of cereals into the diet. The child loses or fails to gain weight, loses appetite, and the stools become softer, paler, larger and more frequent than usual. The tummy may appear swollen and contrasts with thin, floppy muscles. Vomiting, diarrhoea or constipation may occur.

At older ages, coeliacs tend to present with a deficiency of one or more nutrients because these are not absorbed properly. In childhood or adolescence there may be short stature and in adults, weight loss. Tiredness and irritability are common. The skin and tongue may appear pale due to lack of the normal red pigment in blood (anaemia). Problems with bones may occur, such as deformity, pain or liability to fracture. Since nutrients are incompletely absorbed, increased bowel frequency with the passage of bulky pale stools may occur and there may be associated abdominal pain and/or distension. However, many sufferers experience no bowel disturbance, and they can be constipated.

What treatment is available?

The abnormality of the intestine improves or disappears if gluten is avoided in food. This This means excluding all foods which contain wheat, rye or barley. To remove gluten from all food and drink is difficult because it is present in bread, biscuits, cakes, pastries, breakfast cereals, pasta, beer, and most soups, sauces and puddings.
Gluten-free foods, such as gluten-free flour, bread, biscuits and pasta are available on prescription by the doctor. Lists of gluten-free foods are available from manufacturers and also the:

Coeliac Society of the UK
PO Box 220
High Wycombe
Buckinghamshire
HP11 2HY
Tel: 01494 437 278

Information Courtesy of:
Digestive Disorders Foundation

For Further information visit the website:
www.digestivedisorders.org.uk
Email: ddf@digestivedisorders.org.uk

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