Coeliac Disease

What is Coeliac Disease?

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disorder where eating gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye and barley) leads to damage in the small intestine.  As many as one in every 82 New Zealanders have coeliac disease.
When people with coeliac disease eat gluten, their body produces an immune response that attacks the small intestine.  These attacks damage the small intestine and over time the damage means that nutrients are not absorbed properly into the body.  This can lead to deficiencies in vitamins and minerals and sometimes protein, carbohydrates, and fats.
Coeliac disease is not a Food Intolerance but an allergic reaction.  There are potential serious health consequences of undiagnosed or untreated coeliac disease.

What are the symptoms of Coeliac Disease?

Often there are no specific symptoms of the disease, but other times the following can be experienced;

  • Diarrhoea and/or constipation
  • Excessive wind
  • Stomach pain, cramping or bloating
  • Iron (anaemia), vitamin B12 or folic acid deficiency
  • Fatigue (often a symptom of vitamin or mineral deficiency)
  • Sudden or unexpected weight loss
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Hair loss
  • Dental problems, especially with enamel
  • Liver abnormalities
  • Nerve problems, such as numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
    Of course many of the above mentioned complaints are very common and are not necessarily due to coeliac disease.

How is Coeliac Disease Diagnosed?

Your GP will organise a blood test called the transglutaminase antibodies.  The results of this test may point towards coeliac disease.  This test however will miss up to 10% of people who do have the disease.
The only way to accurately diagnose this condition is with a biopsy of the small bowel.  This can be done through a Gastroscopy at the MacMurray Centre.  This is a simple safe and painless procedure.
A pathologist then examines this tissue biopsy in order to make a proper diagnosis.  Biopsy results take between three and five days to reach your GP or specialist.
If coeliac disease is diagnosed then follow up consultations with your specialist will begin, including individual dietary planning.

Does Coeliac Disease run in families?

It certainly can.  About one in ten close family relatives of an affected patient may also have coeliac disease.
There is also an association with Diabetes.

What is the treatment if I have Coeliac Disease?

The key to treating coeliac disease is to prevent further damage to the gut, so a strict gluten free diet must be followed.  The diet must be continued for life because all coeliac patients remain sensitive to gluten indefinitely.  Our Dietitian team can help manage your new diet.
Medication is rarely necessary but sometimes supplements are needed to ensure a balanced diet is achieved.

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