Coeliac disease affects about one in 70 Australians, however Coeliac Australia says an alarming 80 per cent of cases remain undiagnosed. With these statistics, it’s likely you or someone you know suffers from the disease – but how much do you actually know about it?
The immune disease causes an abnormal reaction to gluten (a protein found in wheat, oats, rye and barley), which damages and inflames the small bowel.
Symptoms and their severity vary case by case but can include iron and other nutritional deficiencies and gastrointestinal problems. Gastroenterologist Dr Nathan Connelly says children are generally sicker and nearly always have symptoms.
“They look unwell. Adults are often asymptomatic and are diagnosed because of osteoporosis or iron deficiency.”
He also says people who develop coeliac disease are born with a genetic predisposition to it.
Diagnosing the condition begins with a blood test (coeliac serology), measuring antibody levels in the blood, which are usually elevated in patients with untreated coeliac disease.
Dr Connelly says it will be confirmed by a biopsy of the small bowel (via gastroscopy).
“All patients should have (a biopsy) in my opinion. Another test is the gene test. If you don’t have one of three specified types of immune gene (HLA types) then you can’t have the disease. It can rule the disease out (but not in).”
The only way to treat the disease is with a strict gluten-free diet.
Dr Connelly says patients risk developing osteoporosis and small bowel lymphoma in very severely affected patients who do not stick to the diet.
Mrs Nicole Starbuck-Connelly
Director, Moonee Valley Specialist Centre
03 9372 0372