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This page offers some essential information about Coeliac Disease, with links for those who wish to find out more.

What is Coeliac Disease?

Coeliac disease (sometimes written celiac) is a common condition that affects the lower bowel and is caused by an intolerance to a protein called gluten. Gluten is found in grain, most notably wheat, but also rye and barley, which are used in bread, cakes and pasta. Some very sensitive people cannot eat oats either as they can be contaminated by wheat.

What causes it?

Nobody really knows the exact cause. While it is linked to certain foods, it is not a food allergy. It is an autoimmune condition. This means that is happens because our body’s immune system attacks gluten in the digestive system because it thinks it is harmful. This attack results in damage being caused to the lining of the gut with the result that the gut cannot absorb food properly. This leads to symptoms such as diarrhoea, weight loss and stomach pain.


Is it hereditary?

It can be.

How many people suffer?

It is estimated that 1 in 100 people in the UK are affected. There are many more people out there who are unaware that they have coeliac disease and others who are being mis-diagnosed, so that number could be much higher.

Are you born with coeliac disease?

Not necessarily. Anyone can develop it at any age – from babies and children to the elderly. It appears to be most common amongst people aged 40 to 50.

Is there a cure?

No. The symptoms can be kept under control by avoiding gluten and thus following a strict gluten free diet.


It is best to see your GP if you suspect you or one of your family has this disease. Before taking any action to change your diet, make sure that you continue with a normal diet until after diagnosis.

First, you need a blood test. Your own GP can do this test or arrange for a blood test. What they are looking for are certain antibodies that are commonly found in people with coeliac disease. If these are found in your blood, your GP will refer you for a biopsy of your gut. This is a simple procedure that will be undertaken in hospital.

Because the symptoms of coeliac disease, it can often be mistaken for other conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and Crohn’s disease (a disease of the small intestine). For this reason, you will not usually be referred for a gut biopsy unless you have coeliac disease antibodies in your blood.

Tests after diagnosis

If you are diagnosed with coeliac disease, you may also have a number of other tests to assess how the condition has so far affected you. You may have further blood tests to check the levels of iron and other vitamins and minerals in your bloodstream. This will show whether or not coeliac disease has caused you to develop anaemia (lack of iron in the blood) due to poor digestion. If you appear to have dermatitis herpetiformis (an itchy rash also caused by gluten intolerance), you may have a skin biopsy in order to confirm it.

Others may also need to have a DEXA scan, which is a type of X-ray that measures your bone density. This may be necessary if your GP thinks that your condition may have started to damage your bones, which can result in osteoporosis (weak and brittle bones). In coeliac disease, a lack of nutrients caused by poor digestion can make your bones become weaker and less dense.


A lifelong exclusion from your diet of any foods that contain gluten. This prevents the damage to the lining of your intestines (gut) that is caused by gluten, and the associated symptoms, such as diarrhoea and stomach pain. Your symptoms should improve quickly, but it may take up to two years for your digestive system to heal. It is wise to visit your GP regularly for check ups.

A gluten-free diet

Thankfully there are many more gluten free products available in the supermarkets now and plenty of information available on the internet. If you are diagnosed with coeliac disease you are likely to get the help of a dietician to help you to adjust your diet. You may be able to get these gluten-free foods on prescription. There are also many basic foods that are naturally free from gluten that you can still include in your diet, such as meat, vegetables, cheese and rice.

Foods to avoid as these generally contain gluten (unless they specifically state they are gluten free). As you will see they form many of our daily staples, so following a gluten free diet is a major readjustment:

  • Bread
  • Pasta
  • Cereals
  • Biscuits or crackers
  • Cakes and pastries
  • Pies
  • Gravies and sauces
  • Oats (some people with coeliac disease may be able to eat oats, but it is best to avoid them because they can be contaminated with wheat).


It is vital that you check the ingredients labels on foods, particularly processed foods. Many contain gluten by way of additives. What’s more gluten may also be found in less obvious products such as lipstick, postage stamps, shampoo and some types of medication.

Cross-contamination can be a problem if gluten-free foods and foods containing gluten are prepared together, or served with the same utensils.

There are many naturally gluten free foods which can be enjoyed for example:

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Meat and fish
  • Potatoes
  • Rice
  • Gluten-free flours, including rice, corn, soy and potato

If you have found this useful and would like to find out more, here are some links:


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