You only have to look at the array of gluten-free options on the supermarket shelves or the gluten-free dishes at your local café to know that gluten intolerance is on the increase. However, is it just a case of people jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon, and is it hampering the diagnosis of a real health problem?
Coeliac disease, a condition affecting the autoimmune system, affects one in 70 Australians, yet 80 per cent of those affected don’t know that they are sufferers. With symptoms including stomach complaints, nutrient deficiencies, anaemia, chronic fatigue and headaches, the condition can often be masked as something else. Worse, by removing gluten from a diet, the condition becomes difficult to diagnose, as tests monitor active gluten consumption.
Therefore, if you’re suffering symptoms that you believe to be caused by coeliac disease, it’s important you consult your GP before removing gluten from your diet.
Early diagnosis of coeliac disease is vital because, if left untreated, it can lead to chronic ill health and illnesses such as liver disease, osteoporosis, other autoimmune diseases, and even cancer.
The best way to identify the disease is by targeted testing carried out by your GP. Blood-related family members of coeliac sufferers have an elevated risk, with first-degree relatives carrying a one in 10 chance of having the disease.
According to Coeliac Australia, symptoms and signs that should prompt testing for coeliac disease are:
- chronic or intermittent gastrointestinal symptoms, such as diarrhoea, constipation, abdominal pain, bloating or flatulence
- prolonged fatigue (‘tired all the time’)
- iron deficiency anaemia or nutritional deficiency
- sudden or unexpected weight loss
- dental enamel defects or mouth ulcers
- low-trauma fracture or premature osteoporosis
- infertility, recurrent miscarriages
- abnormal liver function tests (especially elevated transaminases)
- peripheral neuropathy, ataxia or epilepsy.
If you’re concerned that you could be suffering from coeliac disease, you should contact your GP without delay. You may also wish to take this online self-assessment at coeliac.org.au