It's Coeliac Disease Awareness Week in Australia.
Coeliac disease is a lifelong condition that means your body cannot tolerate gluten. As coeliac disease is a serious medical condition with lifelong implications, a definitive diagnosis is essential.
At Doctors at Southport Park, we have a wonderful team of GPs, nurses, & dietitian who can help you diagnose, treat and manage your coeliac condition. Our dietitian can suggest better diet management plans for your conditions too. Our chronic disease nurses provide educational information about your condition.
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Let's talk about Coeliac Disease
It is a disease where the body's immune system reacts abnormally to gluten ( a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats), causing small bowel damage. The tiny, finger-like projections which line the bowel (villi) become inflamed and flattened. This in turn reduces the surface area of the bowel available for nutrient absorption, which can lead to various gastrointestinal and malabsorptive symptoms. The gluten free diet is not a trivial undertaking and involves lifestyle changes and learning new skills such as reading and interpreting food labels.
How common is the condition?
Coeliac disease affects on average approximately 1 in 70 Australians.
What are the long term risks of undiagnosed and untreated coeliac disease?
The long term consequences of untreated coeliac disease are related to chronic systemic inflammation, poor nutrition and malabsorption of nutrients. For more information, see Associated Conditions. Fortunately, timely diagnosis of coeliac disease and treatment with a gluten free diet can prevent or reverse many of the associated health conditions.
Some people experience severe symptoms while others are asymptomatic (they have no obvious symptoms at all).
Symptoms can include one or more of the following:
Persistent gastrointestinal symptoms e.g. diarrhoea, constipation, nausea, vomiting, flatulence, cramping, bloating, abdominal pain, steatorrhea
Prolonged fatigue, weakness and lethargy
Iron deficiency anaemia and/or other vitamin and mineral deficiencies
Failure to thrive or delayed puberty in children
Unexplained weight loss
Severe or recurrent mouth ulcers
Skin rashes such as dermatitis herpetiformis
People who experience any of the following should also be screened for coeliac disease
Early onset osteoporosis
Unexplained infertility or recurrent miscarriage
First degree relatives of people with coeliac disease
Persistently raised liver enzymes with unknown cause autoimmune disease e.g. type 1 diabetes, autoimmune thyroid condition
Dental enamel defects
Down’s or Turner Syndrome
The reasons other medical conditions complicate coeliac disease are:
Genetics - the inherited genes that make a person susceptible to coeliac disease also make them susceptible to a range of other immune conditions. Many people find that several autoimmune diseases are present in their immediate or extended family. Therefore, it is important to inform your doctor of the presence of other autoimmune conditions in yourself or your family. Screening should occur in those with another autoimmune condition, even if there are no obvious symptoms of coeliac disease. There is some evidence that early diagnosis and treatment of coeliac disease reduces the risk of other autoimmune disease developing.
Chronic inflammation - the chronic inflammation caused by coeliac disease mainly affects the small bowel lining, but can also present in a variety of other organs in the body such as the skin, joints, bones, liver, pancreas, thyroid gland, nervous system, and reproductive tract.
Small bowel damage - Chronic inflammation in the lining of the small bowel can result in poor absorption of nutrients – vitamins and minerals, e.g. calcium, vitamin D, iron, vitamin B12, leading to problems such as anaemia and vitamin deficiencies.
How is coeliac disease diagnosed?
It is important that you see your doctor if you think that you might have coeliac disease. The testing process includes three steps:
Keep eating food with gluten: Keep eating what you usually eat. Your doctor needs to see how food containing gluten affects your body.
Blood test: A simple blood test is the first step.
Small bowel biopsy: The doctor will perform an ‘endoscopy’ to examine the inside of your bowel to check for signs of coeliac disease. It is a quick, painless procedure that is done while you are asleep.
Source: Coeliac Australia