What is coeliac disease?


Everything you need to know about the autoimmune disease, caused by a reaction to gluten.

By Rita Ghelani

What is coeliac disease?

It is estimated that coeliac disease affects around one in 100 people in the UK and many of these people are living with the illness undiagnosed.

Coeliac disease is often spoken about in terms of food allergies and food intolerances, but is in fact an auto-immune disease where the body produces antibodies that attack itself, caused by gluten intolerance. Left untreated, coeliac disease can lead to serious health implications.

What are the symptoms of coeliac disease?

Symptoms of coeliac disease vary and can come and go. For people with coeliac disease, gluten can cause damage and inflammation of the lining of the small intestine, reducing its ability to absorb nutrients from food. The symptoms of the gut can include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Indigestion
  • Bloating
  • Wind
  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation

How is coeliac disease diagnosed?

‘Many people react to gluten, but only a small proportion actually have coeliac disease,’ says Dr Gill Hart, biochemist and scientific director at YorkTest laboratories. ‘We know that many people overlook the fact that they may have coeliac disease and often put off getting diagnosed. A visit to the GP is always recommended to rule out coeliac disease as it is a serious condition.’

If you think you might have coeliac disease, book an appointment with your GP. Your doctor will arrange for blood tests to check for the following:

? Total immunoglobulin A (IgA)

? Tissue transglutaminase (tTG)

? IgA endomysial antibodies (EMA) of tTG is weakly positive

If the blood tests are positive, then a gut biopsy will be required to confirm the diagnosis. While you are having these tests, you should continue eating foods containing gluten to ensure the tests work correctly.

Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity

If coeliac disease is ruled out, it may be that you are suffering from non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), which is very different to coeliac disease, but the symptoms can be similar.

‘The vast majority of individuals who have NCGS also react to other food and drink ingredients as well,’ says Dr Hart. ‘For example, you may think that you are reacting to gluten in bread, but it might be the yeast and/or the gluten, along with other food ingredients, that are causing the problems. After having additional tests NCGS can be managed successfully by following a guided elimination diet.’

What is gluten?

Most people diagnosed with coeliac disease are advised to follow a gluten-free diet, which can include naturally gluten-free products and foods based on gluten-free wheat starch.

Gluten is the elastic, rubbery protein in grains which binds the dough in foods such as bread and other baked goods. It contributes to the spongy consistency and is commonly found in rye, wheat and barley.

Gluten is the elastic, rubbery protein in grains which binds the dough in foods such as bread.

As a protein, gluten is not essential to your diet and can be replaced by other foods with contain protein but not gluten, such as cheese, fish, potatoes, rice, oats, pulses, dairy products and meats, which are all naturally gluten-free.

You may be referred to a dietitian who will help you plan a balanced diet that contains all the nutrients that you need without gluten.

The best Gluten-free products

To help make a gluten-free diet more varied and adaptable, specially manufactured gluten-free products such as breads, biscuits, flour mix, pasta and breakfast cereals should be considered. These are available to buy at many supermarkets and health food stores. We’ve rounded up a few of our favourites:


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here