Coeliac disease

Introduction

Coeliac disease is a common autoimmune condition where the immune system in a person’s intestine (gut) reacts in an adverse way to a eating a protein called gluten.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye.

Gluten is also found in any food and drink that contains or is made from wheat, barley and rye, including:

most types of bread 

  • pasta 
  • cakes 
  • biscuits
  • breakfast cereals 
  • pastry
  • certain types of sauces 
  • some types of ready meals
  • most beers and lagers
  • certain fruit squashes.

How many people have coeliac disease?

Coeliac disease affects one person in every 100 but only about 10 to 15% of them are ever diagnosed. There are also around nine adults to every child diagnosed.

Reported cases of coeliac disease are two to three times higher in women than men and can develop at any age, although symptoms are most likely to develop:

  • during early childhood - between 8 and 12 months old  (after introduction of gluten-containing foods).
  • in later adulthood - between the ages of 40 and 60 years.

Symptoms of coeliac disease

Coeliac disease can cause a wide range of symptoms in the digestive system and in the rest of the body. Symptoms may be similar to those in other conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) whereas some people may have no symptoms at all.

Find out more about the symptoms of coeliac disease

Causes of coeliac disease

Coeliac disease is more common in people with certain conditions and in relatives of people with coeliac disease but it is unknown exactly why people develop the condition.

Find out more about the causes of coeliac disease

Diagnosing coeliac disease

Coeliac disease can be diagnosed at any age (after the introduction of gluten-containing foods to the infant weaning diet), and presents in both children and adults.

Most people with coeliac disease have antibodies that show up on a blood test. The first stage in diagnosis can be a simple blood test. The second stage is a biopsy.

Find out more about how coeliac disease is diagnosed

Treating coeliac disease

Coeliac disease can be very effectively treated with a gluten-free diet. By adopting a gluten-free diet and lifestyle, a person with coeliac disease can self-manage their condition and improve their quality of life.

Find out more about how coeliac disease is treated

Complications of coeliac disease

If coeliac disease remains untreated or undiagnosed, a person is at greater risk of other conditions such as osteoporosis and cancer in later life.

Find out more about the complications of coeliac disease

Last updated: 23 January 2014

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