Coeliac Disease – what is it?
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition that affects around 1 in 100 people in the UK, with many people being diagnosed in their adult life. In those with coeliac disease, when they eat any foods containing gluten, the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues. This causes the guts lining to be damaged, which hinders the absorption of nutrients from food. Coeliac disease is not an allergy or food intolerance and the only treatment option is a gluten-free diet.
People can have a range of different symptoms which include:
- Tummy pain and bloating
- Weight loss
- Diarrhoea or constipation
- Iron or vitamin deficiencies (e.g. B12 or folate deficiency)
- Joint pain and fatigue
- Occasional bloody stools
- People with other autoimmune conditions (e.g. thyroid issues) are more likely to have another one such as this
What do the tests mean?
If you are looking to test yourself for coeliac disease, the tests will only work if you’ve eaten a diet containing at least 2 gluten meals a day for the past 6 weeks. Although this isn’t very nice as it’ll probably make you feel unwell, it’s the only way to make sure the antibodies show up on the tests below.
- Tissue Transglutaminase IgA antibody (tTG IgA) - this is the best test for coeliac disease and so it is the first-line test.
Some people lack IgA antibodies and so this test can sometimes be negative. If you have symptoms, then other tests are advised.
- Tissue Transglutaminase IgA antibody (tTG IgA) - this is the best test for coeliac disease but is sometimes negative in people who lack IgA antibodies.
- Endomysial Antibodies (EMA IgA) - these can develop as part of the ongoing destruction of the muscle fibres in your gut. This test is often used when tTG IgA tests don’t give a clear answer either way.
- Gliadin Antibodies - gliadin is one of the components of gluten. The NHS doesn’t test for these anymore but if you have a condition where you lack IgA antibodies, these ones may show up instead.
The treatment = a gluten-free diet
Frustratingly the only treatment for coeliac disease is a gluten-free diet. There are no medications or procedures which can cure it. Once you have coeliac disease, you have it for life, so it is incredibly important to try to stick to a gluten-free diet.
Here’s some simple advice for you to get started:
- See a dietician who can help tailor a diet specifically for you and your tastes
- Clue yourself up as much as you can. The more you read, the more you know and the more you can do keep yourself healthy and happy. There’s lots of information and support out there. Start with the NHS and Coeliac UK pages
- Make sure you’re not deficient in any nutrients. Coeliac disease can stop you absorbing things like iron, folate and vitamin B12. You can consider a Well Man/Woman UltraVit Test to monitor these levels
A lot of gluten-free foods can be prescribed by your GP and this can really help both practically and financially. Discuss with your GP what’s available.
- Foods based on wheat, barley and rye e.g. bread, flour, cakes, pastries and biscuits.
- Foods that contain gluten as a filler e.g. sausages, ready meals, soups, sauces and bread-based batter.
- Foods that “May Contain Gluten” - always check the label.
- Foods containing malt and most beers.