Following from my post about food intolerance’s, I have received my blood test results. I have been diagnosed with coeliac disease which causes inflammation in the lining of the small intestine. My results will be confirmed at a follow-up appointment but from now on I cannot eat gluten or wheat food products. Although it has been distressing to find that I have limitations to my diet, I am relieved that I know the cause of my problem and hopefully my symptoms will calm down as I change my food intake.
Interestingly, coeliac disease is not a food allergy or intolerance. It is in fact an autoimmune disease. Since my sister has type 1 diabetes, another autoimmune disease, it is not surprising that I have one too; if a close family member has such a disease there is a 1 in 10 chance of developing one. My diagnosis means that my body actually makes antibodies against gluten. Therefore, my small intestine identifies gluten as harmful; responding in the same way as it would to pathogens. It reacts with the gluten leading to the development of inflammation in the lining of the intestine. The villi that line the small intestine become flattened due to this inflammation. Villi normally help food and nutrients to be digested and so with coeliac disease you do not properly digest your food. This is why I have had limited weight gain, abdominal pains and tiredness; the main symptoms of the disease. The average time from the first symptoms to diagnosis of coeliac disease is 13 years in the UK; this means I could have been living with it for nearly my whole life.
My blood test for coeliac disease was obviously positive as there was a high percentage of the antibody that occurs in the disease in my blood. My follow-up appointment may include a biopsy where a small sample of tissue is taken from the lining of the intestine in order to examine the typical changes that coeliac disease causes. This is carried out by using an endoscope which is a thin flexible tube that is passed down the oesophagus, through the stomach and then to the small intestine. In addition, I may have to have further tests to see how poor absorption of food has affected me, such as blood tests for iron or protein levels.
The main treatment for the disease is a gluten free diet. The symptoms should then go within a few weeks. Wheat, barley and rye are the main foods that contain gluten. This means breads, pasta, cakes, pastries and most cereals are out of the question. Nevertheless, potatoes, rice, maize, corn, fruit, dairy products and vegetables are all allowed. The main disadvantage with Coeliac disease is eating out. Processed foods, fast foods and ready-meals almost always contain gluten. Care has to be taken with foods such as french fries in McDonald’s; although they do not contain gluten, they are likely to be contaminated with the various other foods containing gluten that the restaurant is cooking.
To avoid all symptoms and complications I will have to avoid gluten for life as even small amounts can sensitize the gut. Furthermore, I may have to take vitamin supplements for the first 6 months to replace deficiencies while my gut is returning to normal.
Coeliac disease means I now have an increased risk of developing other conditions such as the thinning of the bones (osteoporosis). Commonly people think that consuming small amounts of gluten will not matter. In reality only a small amount can cause symptoms to return.
The disease affects 1 in 100 people in the UK, with anyone at any age being impacted. If you think you may be Coeliac you should see your doctor. A gluten free diet should not be attempted before diagnosis as if you go on this diet before the blood test then it may give negative results. Hopefully I will be able to live free from the symptoms of Coeliac disease if I avoid gluten! For more information visit: http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/digestive-diseases/celiac-disease/Pages/facts.aspx