Gastroenterology and hepatology > Coeliac disease

  • Coeliac disease is caused by an allergic reaction to gluten, a protein which is present in food containing wheat, barley, rye or oats. Although it is a lifelong condition, it is most commonly diagnosed in adults.
  • Symptoms of coeliac disease include loss of weight, a bloated abdomen, diarrhoea with pale stools, anaemia, general weakness and mouth ulcers. These symptoms are caused by poor absorption of vitamins and nutrients through the intestine.
  • Coeliac disease can be diagnosed using blood tests, but it is often necessary to examine a small piece of tissue from the small intestine to confirm the diagnosis. This is obtained by endoscopy (examination of the intestine using a video ‘telescope’).
  • Coeliac disease is treated by following a special diet. Foods to avoid include those made from wheat flour, such as bread, cakes, biscuits and pastries, and those containing rye, barley or oats. People often notice that their symptoms improve within days of starting a gluten-free diet.
  • Coeliac disease is a lifelong condition, but you can stay in good health if you continue to follow the gluten-free diet. Gluten-free foods are available on prescription, and you will receive advice from a dietician.
  • The Coeliac Society also provides useful information on foods that must be avoided and those that can be eaten freely, including food available in the major supermarket chains.