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What is coeliac disease?

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

Coeliac disease is a common digestive disease which affects 1 in 80 Australians. It is an auto-immune disease where exposure to a protein called gluten, commonly present in many foods, results in the destruction of the lining of the small intestine which leads to reduced absorption of nutrients, minerals and vitamins.  Symptoms that are commonly associated with coeliac disease include abdominal bloating and discomfort, diarrhoea and weight loss. Some patients may not have these typical symptoms and may instead present with clinical signs of nutritional deficiencies such as iron deficiency anaemia and premature osteoporosis. Other less common manifestations include skin rash, easy irritability and joint pain.  Untreated coeliac disease can result in malnutrition, osteoporosis and chronic ill health.

A simple blood test to detect antibodies towards coeliac disease is initially used as a screening test. If this is abnormal, the diagnosis is confirmed by obtaining a biopsy from the small intestine for pathological examination.  A safe and painless procedure, a gastroscopy is undertaken to obtain these biopsies. Confirmation of the diagnosis with biopsies is highly recommended prior to commencement of gluten-free diet.

Coeliac disease is treated with life-long strict gluten-free diet. A dietician review is highly recommended for a comprehensive planning and supervision.  Maintenance of a strict gluten-free diet is necessary to reduce long-term complications of untreated or sub-optimally treated disease.

For further information regarding coeliac disease, please contact Dr Koo at Liverpool Day Surgery on 9601 4488.