About Coeliac Disease

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What is coeliac disease?

Coeliac disease (pronounced see-liac and spelled celiac in other countries) is a serious illness where the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues when you eat gluten. This causes damage to the lining of the gut and means the body can’t properly absorb nutrients from food. Coeliac disease is not an allergy or food intolerance.

Coeliac disease is caused by an adverse reaction to gluten, a dietary protein found in three types of cereal:

  • wheat
  • barley
  • rye

Gluten is found in any food that contains the above cereals, including:

  • pasta
  • cakes
  • breakfast cereals
  • most types of bread
  • certain types of sauces
  • some types of ready meals

In addition, most beers are made from barley.

How common is coeliac disease?

Coeliac disease is common and affects one in 100 people. However only 24% who have the condition have been diagnosed which means there are currently nearly half a million people who have coeliac disease but don’t yet know. If a first degree family member (such as mother, father, sister or brother) has the condition then the chances of having it increase to one in ten.

What causes coeliac disease?

Coeliac disease is caused by a reaction of the immune system to gluten – a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. When someone with coeliac disease eats gluten, their immune system reacts by damaging the lining of the small intestine.

What are the symptoms of coeliac disease?

Symptoms range from mild to severe, and can include bloating, diarrhoea, nausea, wind, constipation, tiredness, mouth ulcers, sudden or unexpected weight loss (but not in all cases), and anaemia.

If you think you could have coeliac disease, take our online assessment at isitcoeliacdisease.org.uk

What is the treatment for coeliac disease?

Once diagnosed, the only treatment for coeliac disease is a gluten free diet. Gluten is found in wheat, barley and rye. Some people are also sensitive to oats. Once gluten is removed from the diet, you should start to feel much better.

What is dermatitis herpetiformis?

Dermatitis herpetiformis (DH) is the skin manifestation of coeliac disease which occurs as a rash that commonly occurs on the elbows, knees, shoulders, buttocks and face, with red, raised patches often with blisters. It affects around one in 3,300 people.

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