How is it diagnosed?
First of all, if you believe that you have coeliac disease then it’s important to discuss your symptoms with your doctor, who can then decide if tests are needed.
In addition to this, clinical guidelines specify that immediate relatives of sufferers should undergo blood testing, as having a parent, child or sibling with the condition increases your likelihood of having the disease tenfold (to around 10 per cent) .
The overlap of symptoms between coeliac disease and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), means guidelines indicate that coeliac disease should be ruled out before an IBS diagnosis is made. Research suggests coeliac disease is four times as common in those with an IBS diagnosis, and the average time for a coeliac diagnosis from initial symptoms is 13 years, so it is important to persist if you are concerned.
If the results of your blood tests turn out to be positive, then the final step to diagnosis is through a small bowel endoscopy. Here a biopsy is taken of the lining of the small intestine and the samples from these are then examined under a microscope to look for the tell-tale erosion caused by gluten.
Treating Coeliac Disease
Unfortunately there is no real answer apart from trying a gluten-free diet. However, the good news is that there is a wide selection of food products available that are suitable for coeliacs. Coeliac UK’s annual Food & Drink Directory lists over 10,000 products and is a helpful guide for the newly diagnosed.
Gluten avoidance is vital because it allows the gut lining to recover and begin to efficiently absorb nutrition again. Supplements may be required if patients are deficient in nutrients such as calcium, iron and vitamin B12.
Most coeliacs begin to feel better within weeks of starting the diet, but symptoms may not resolve for a year or two. Long-term considerations include checks for osteoporosis, of which patients are at greater risk due to compromised calcium absorption.
Thankfully the awareness of coeliac disease is increasing. There are a number of treatment therapies in development worldwide, including enzyme therapies, drugs and even a vaccine. It’s still early days, but the outlook is positive, and the research possibilities exciting.