Coeliac disease is very common in Ireland. It is estimated that 1 in every 100 Irish people have coeliac disease.
What is Coeliac Disease?
Coeliac Disease is an autoimmune disease causing some adults and children to react to gluten, the protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Gluten is a common ingredient in many foods that people consume every day, including – for example – bread, pasta, gravy, soy sauce and beer.
Some people with coeliac disease are also sensitive to oats. If a person with coeliac disease eats gluten, the lining of the small intestine becomes damaged, reducing their ability to absorb the nutrients from food. If untreated, coeliac disease can affect fertility and lead to other health conditions such as osteoporosis.
What are the symptoms of Coeliac Disease?
Symptoms of coeliac disease vary from person to person and may be constant or only occur from time to time. Visit coeliac.ie for more detail.
Symptoms can be different from person to person and they can come and go.
The first step towards diagnosis is a blood test. Your GP can perform this test. Following a positive blood test, the most conclusive way to diagnose coeliac disease is by taking a biopsy from the small intestine. It is important to be on a gluten-containing diet before testing in order to ensure the most accurate result. The equivalent of four slices of gluten-containing bread a day for six weeks is sufficient. It is important not to self-diagnose. A lifelong gluten-free diet is a big commitment which should only be undertaken if necessary. An official diagnosis is required to take advantage of the financial support available.
Treatment After Diagnosis
A gluten-free diet is the primary treatment for coeliac disease, at present there is no cure. As soon as you start your gluten-free diet you should begin to feel better very quickly, though your gut may take a little longer to fully recover. There are plenty of foods that are naturally gluten-free and the range of specialised gluten-free products is growing all the time.
Recovery & Follow Up
Initially you should follow up with your doctor every 6 months. Your doctor will repeat the blood tests to ensure that the gluten-free diet has been effective. After your antibodies have returned to normal a further biopsy can be carried out to check that the small intestine has healed. If your blood test and/or biopsy results show that you are responding well to the gluten-free diet it is important to stick to it. If you eat gluten your small intestine will become damaged again and your symptoms will return. Support with the gluten-free diet is essential. It is important that your gluten-free diet is healthy, balanced and nutritionally adequate. This is best achieved with advice from a qualified dietitian. Find a dietitian who’s a member of the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute (INDI).
For more information on coeliac disease and gluten-free living contact
The Coeliac Society of Ireland. Visit www.coeliac.ie or call 01 8721471.