Lately, eating everything gluten-free has become a new trend, just like how the keto diet was a massive hip some time ago. Even your local stores abound with gluten-free products, but for some people going gluten-free is not a fad.
For people with coeliac disease, even consuming a small amount of gluten can be very dangerous. This disorder is an autoimmune condition and when someone with coeliac disease eats something with gluten, their body overreacts to the protein causing numerous health issues.
So, people who are diagnosed with coeliac disease must avoid consuming gluten products. But, gluten sensitivity isn’t always coeliac disease which is why being aware of your condition is the best way to keep yourself healthy.
What is Coeliac Disease and why should it be treated?
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease with no cure. In Australia, the coeliac disease affects 1 in 70 Australians, making it one of the most widely seen medical disorders in the country.
It occurs when the gluten present in food items is confused with an infection. The immune system reacts against it causing severe damage to villi, which are found in the inner lining of the small intestine. These small projections help to absorb nutrients in our body, but due to the autoimmune attack, it can result into:
- Trouble absorbing nutrients
- Weight loss
- Issues in the nerves and many more
Not only that, coeliac disease can lead to many other gastrointestinal diseases and digestive issues that would require immediate intervention by a specialist like a gastroenterologist.
Symptoms and signs of coeliac disease
One of the setbacks to coeliac disease diagnosis is that people with this condition may never see any symptoms or some might notice such subtle gastrointestinal symptoms that they never find them important enough for a doctor’s visit.
And since coeliac disease symptoms are so mild, people often go undiagnosed for many years. But when it comes, the symptoms may include:
- Weight loss
- Loss of bone density or osteoporosis
- Missed menstrual cycles in women
- Inflammation leading to bloating
- Numbness in the hands and feet
- Iron-deficiency anaemia
- Bone or joint pain
- Abdominal pain
Untreated coeliac disease can lead to other major health issues
People with coeliac disease have twice the risk of developing coronary artery disease than someone without the disease. Not only that, but people with coeliac disease also have four times the risk of developing bowel cancers.
When it is left untreated, it can lead to other autoimmune disorders such as Type 1 Diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis and neurological issues like a migraine.
Diagnosis of coeliac disease
A GP or a specialist like a gastroenterologist plays an important role in coeliac disease management, as they decide when to go for a test.
Since it comes with a lot of symptoms, resembling other intestinal issues like irritable bowel syndrome or lactose intolerance, it is best advised to see a doctor immediately when you suspect any symptoms.
They will most likely advise a blood test called Anti Tissue Transglutaminase Antibody. When you get a positive result, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re suffering from one.
How can a gastroenterologist help manage coeliac disease?
As a digestive health specialist, a gastroenterologist is the only person who can confirm if you have coeliac disease. They will run all the necessary tests and advise you what to do next.
They can perform an endoscopy, a procedure where they will use an instrument to collect a biopsy from your small intestine and send it to the pathology for evaluation.
They will advise you on follow-up care and diet.
What is the long-term solution for patients with coeliac disease?
Since the coeliac disease is a lifelong condition, strictly adhering to a gluten-free diet is the only prognosis for living with this condition.
Avoid eating anything that is not labelled gluten-free. Avoid pasta, cake, beer, pies, etc unless they are gluten-free.
Following a gluten-free diet will prevent and reduce damage in the small intestine. For adults, the healing from an immune attack can take up to 3 years before they feel ok.