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What Is Coeliac Disease?

How To Recognise Coeliac Disease

Coeliac disease (pronounced see-lee-ak) is a permanent intestinal reaction to dietary gluten. With coeliac disease, the cells lining the small bowel (intestine) become damaged and inflamed. This causes flattening of the tiny, finger like projections, called villi, which line the inside of the bowel.

The function of the villi is to break down and absorb nutrients in food. When these villi become flat, the surface area of the bowel is greatly decreased, which interferes with the absorption of nutrients from food. This may also lead to deficiencies in vitamins (such as vitamin D, vitamin B12 or folate) and minerals (e.g. iron and calcium).

International research indicates there could be up to 100,000 people in our NZ team of 5 million with coeliac disease and of those 30,000 are likely to be children under the age of 18. However a large proportion of those are unaware they have the condition.    

SYMPTOMS OF COELIAC DISEASE

Common Symptoms in Adults

The symptoms of coeliac disease vary considerably. Listed below are some of the commonly reported symptoms which may occur alone or in combination:
  • Fatigue, weakness and lethargy
This may be due to anaemia - where iron or folic acid deficiency are the presenting feature. The anaemia may either not respond to treatment or may recur after treatment until the correct diagnosis is made and a gluten free diet is commenced.
  • Weight loss
  • Osteoporosis (thin bones)
  • Diarrhoea or Chronic constipation
This may begin at any age and is often present for years prior to diagnosis. Some people are more likely to experience constipation rather than diarrhoea.
  • Flatulence and abdominal distension
  • Cramping and bloating
  • Nausea and vomiting

Less Common Symptoms in Adults

Some other atypical symptoms  or manifestations of coeliac disease include:
  • Easy bruising of the skin
  • Ulcerations and/or swelling of mouth and tongue
  • Miscarriages and infertility
  • Muscle spasms due to low blood calcium levels
  • B12, A, D, E and K vitamin deficiency
  • Skin rashes such as Dermatitis Herpetiformis
  • Neurological issues
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Bone and joint pains

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Common Symptoms in Children

Symptoms do not occur until gluten is introduced into an infant's diet – however symptoms most commonly present in the older age group in order of frequency:
  • Persistent abdominal pain
  • Persistent diarrhoea
  • Poor weight gain
  • Lethargy or tiredness
  • Chronic anaemia
  • Bloating
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Irritability
  • Chronic constipation
  • Large, bulky, foul stool
  • Short stature

"Together, we are GF for life"

Coeliac New Zealand is available throughout your journey. As part of our community, you’ll get support, advice, and assistance. We work with health professionals, manufacturers, and researchers to raise awareness of coeliac disease in NZ.

Together, we can reach a day when every person with coeliac disease gets diagnosed quickly, lives a healthy life, and has the prospect of a cure.

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Learning Resources

Access the online course, approved by the Division for Pediatric Gastroenterology & Hepatology, Munich, Germany.

Understand coeliac disease

Treatment

Coeliac disease is treated with a life-long gluten free diet. By specifically removing the cause of the disease, this treatment generally means that the majority of symptoms (and blood test abnormalities) recover completely. Short stature and dental enamel defects are likely to persist, even with a gluten free diet, depending on how well established these are before the diagnosis is made. Recovery is dependent on strict adherence to the diet.

Some people may require an initial period of a lactose free diet in addition to their gluten-free diet. The damage to the villi interferes with the normal breakdown and absorption of lactose (milk sugar) due to secondary lactose intolerance. With recovery of the villi, progressive reintroduction of lactose might be tolerated again.

 

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About Coeliac New Zealand

Your partner in
healthy living

Coeliac New Zealand is available throughout your journey. As part of our community, you’ll get support, advice, and assistance. We work with health professionals, manufacturers, and researchers to raise awareness of coeliac disease in NZ.

Together, we can reach a day when every person with coeliac disease gets diagnosed quickly, lives a healthy life, and has the prospect of a cure.

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