Over recent years, there has been a huge increase in general awareness of coeliac disease, including its symptoms and effects.
In short, coeliac disease is an inability to digest gluten, which leads the body to attack itself. This results in symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain, excessive wind, diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting and plenty more.
Unlike food intolerances, sufferers of coeliac disease can’t simply choose to indulge in gluten-containing foods and then ‘put up with’ the discomfort and pain that follows. They have to make permanent dietary changes whereby they cut out gluten entirely.
Coeliac disease or gluten intolerance?
The only way to know for sure whether you have coeliac disease is to be properly tested. You might in fact be living with gluten intolerance. Even if severe, gluten intolerance is different from coeliac disease in that it does not cause damage to the small intestine. This is its key distinction from coeliac disease.
It could even be that you have some other sort of food intolerance that is actually unrelated to gluten. These include conditions such as IBS, wheat intolerance, lactose intolerance or something similar.
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Is coeliac disease hereditary?
Coeliac disease does run in families, because – if passed on – it is passed on through the HLA (human leukocyte antigen) genes, i.e. the ‘disease association’ genes.
However, the chances are around one in 10.
As such, coeliac parents should not automatically assume that they will pass on the disease to their children. There is a 90% chance that they will not.
Again, the only way to be sure of who in your household has coeliac disease is to have tests.
What are the testing methods?
There is one way to test accurately for coeliac disease: a blood test, followed by a biopsy of your gut.
Unfortunately, this means that you (and your family, if they are also being tested) will have to keep eating gluten-containing foods. The NHS directly recommends this, because the test may be inconclusive if you don’t.
The aim of the test is to identify antibodies in the blood. These are antibodies that will only be present if the coeliac sufferer is still ingesting gluten.
If this is the case, a specialist will perform a biopsy of your gut. He or she will then be able to confirm or rule out your diagnosis.
It’s important to note that some coeliac sufferers do not develop these antibodies, and therefore do not proceed to the biopsy stage. If symptoms persist following a negative blood test, you (of the sufferer) should refer again to your GP, who should then arrange for a biopsy.
Living with coeliac disease
In response to the increased awareness and understanding of coeliac disease, the number of gluten-alternative products has multiplied.
Sufferers of coeliac disease now have many more options when it comes to buying food for the household and when ordering food while eating out. This also applies to prescription-only options like from leading brand Glutafin, alongside a myriad of methods to make the switch to a gluten free diet exclusively.
Getting tested is one way of ensuring that there’s no more guesswork, and obtaining a definitive answer as to whether you have coeliac disease.