While coeliac disease is generally understood to involve a reaction to gluten, it’s commonly confused with more general food intolerance. This misunderstanding can lead to an unnecessary avoidance of foods for some, and an under estimation of the severity of their intolerance for others.
Let’s take a look at coeliac disease and the symptoms.
What is coeliac disease?
It is an autoimmune disorder which can cause a host of symptoms and complications, from gut problems to skin issues, nutritional deficiencies and even infertility.
These symptoms are triggered when a person with the condition eats gluten – the protein found in wheat, barley and rye. This activates an immune response as the body mistakes the protein for a threat, causing inflammation and damage to the small intestine.
Symptoms can vary from person to person, but some of the most common include:
Bloating and gas
Coeliac disease can cause inflammation in your digestive tract, which may result in bloating and other digestive issues.
In some cases, gluten may cause digestive concerns like bloating even for people who don’t have coeliac disease. For instance, one study found that gluten worsened symptoms like stomach pain, bloating, and fatigue in people with irritable bowel syndrome. This is where it can be confusing working out whether a reaction to gluten is a general intolerance or something more serious, so it’s helpful to consider other symptoms, too.
Loose, watery stools are one of the first symptoms that many people experience before being diagnosed with coeliac disease.
Following a gluten-free diet usually resolves many symptoms of coeliac disease but it’s important to keep in mind that diarrhoea can be caused but lots of different factors, such as infection, other food intolerances, or other intestinal problems.
While coeliac disease may cause diarrhoea in some people, it can cause constipation in others.
Coeliac disease damages the intestinal villi responsible for absorbing nutrients. As food travels through your digestive tract, the villi are unable to fully absorb nutrients and may take on extra moisture from the stool instead. This can make emptying your bowels difficult.
Following a gluten-free diet may not help with constipation as important high-fibre foods such as grains are avoided, so it’s important to include plenty of fibre-rich fruit and veg and to stay hydrated.
Decreased energy levels and fatigue are common in people with coeliac disease. Untreated, coeliac disease can cause damage to your small intestine, resulting in vitamin and mineral deficiencies that can lead to decreased energy levels.
Iron deficiency anaemia
It’s estimated that around 40% of people with coeliac disease also experience iron deficiency anaemia. This is because coeliac disease may impair nutrient absorption, leading to low levels of iron.
Symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia include:
- chest pain
A sharp drop in weight, combined with other symptoms, can be an early sign of coeliac disease. This is because your body finds it harder to absorb nutrients, which may lead to malnutrition and weight loss.
A study in older adults with coeliac disease found that weight loss was one of the most common symptoms. Following treatment, symptoms were resolved, and participants gained an average of 17lbs.
Itchy skin and rashes
Coeliac disease may cause dermatitis herpetiformis, a type of itchy, blistering skin rash found on your elbows, knees, or buttocks. Around 17% of people with coeliac disease experience this tell-tale rash.
Are there other complications linked to coeliac disease?
If left untreated, coeliac disease can be associated with several other health problems, such as:
- bone, muscle, or joint pain
- numbness, tingling, and nerve pain
- nutritional deficiencies
Managing the symptoms of coeliac disease
Coeliac disease is a lifelong condition that has no cure. However, people with this condition can manage their symptoms effectively by following a strict gluten-free diet, avoiding any products containing wheat, barley, rye, or spelt.
Could you have coeliac disease? Find out for sure
If you often experience the symptoms we’ve discussed in this article, and think it may be due to coeliac disease, it may be a good time to get conformation so you can take the right steps to optimise your diet.
Private blood testing is becoming a popular solution for a whole range of medical and diagnostic checks, for people who want quick access to important information about their health and wellbeing. And with our quick and convenient home to laboratory testing kits, getting that information is easy.
Our coeliac screen test is a quick and easy home to laboratory test which can provide the confirmation you need, without a visit to the doctor or hospital.
Our postal kits give you the opportunity to collect a blood sample in the comfort of your own home, at a time to suit you. Simply take your sample and return it to us for testing. Your results, which are emailed to you, can be used to seek the right treatment, as needed.