What is Coeliac Disease?

So you’ve found yourself here at the Gluten Free Cheerleader, and you have no clue what Coeliac Disease even is? Is it an allergy? Is it an illness? Well, I’m here to fill you in.

What is Coeliac Disease?
Coeliac Disease is an autoimmune disease. Gluten, which is found in wheat, barley and rye triggers an immune reaction in people with coeliac disease. This means that eating gluten damages the lining of the small intestine.

What are the symptoms of Coeliac Disease?
Symptoms vary from person to person and can range from mild to severe. They can include nausea, diarrhoea, low iron levels, tiredness, headaches and in my case, mouth ulcers. More can be viewed here.

Is Coeliac Disease a wheat allergy?
No. Celiac disease is not a wheat allergy, nor is it a gluten allergy. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder triggered by eating gluten.

What’s the difference between an autoimmune disease and an allergy?
The immune system’s job is to rid the body of foreign substances that might be harmful to it like bacteria and viruses, and building protection against future attacks. This process is called “the immune response.”
Sometimes the body’s immune to a foreign substance doesn’t function properly and over-reacts in a way that produces symptoms – known as an allergic reaction.
Other times, the immune response malfunctions and reacts incorrectly to the bodies own normal tissue like it thinks that a part of the body is a foreign substance. It attacks the body which is known as an autoimmune response.
In Coeliac Disease, gluten stimulates the production of antibodies that attack the villi lining the small intestine. It’s confused for an allergic illness because it requires a foreign substance to trigger it.
Autoimmune diseases can results in long-term damage to the body. Allergies usually only result in temporary symptoms without long-term damage, unless they produce a fatal anaphylactic reaction.

Isn’t there a cure?
The only “cure” is a life-long gluten free diet. As the villi in the small intestine have been damaged, vitamin supplements may need to be taken after diagnosis.

What are the long-term symptoms of Coeliac Disease?
Untreated Coeliac Disease can be life threatening. Coeliac’s are more likely to be afflicted with problems relating to malabsorption, including osteoporosis, central and peripheral nervous system disease, pancreatic disease, organ disorders and gynaecological disorders. Untreated Coeliac Disease has also been linked to an increased risk of certain types of cancer.

How is Coeliac Disease diagnosed?
Initial diagnosis is by blood test to screen for antibodies. A biopsy of the intestine is needed to make a final diagnosis.

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