Symptoms and diagnosis of coeliac disease

Symptoms and diagnosis of coeliac disease

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of coeliac disease, it is important that you make an appointment to see your doctor to confirm diagnosis.

 

Symptoms

The symptoms associated with coeliac disease can vary from person to person. They may be gut-related, for example:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Wind
  • Bloating
  • Constipation

However, the symptoms of coeliac disease are often more general and felt outside of the gut, for example:

  • Headaches
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Anaemia
  • Joint pain

The symptoms of coeliac disease can be so varied that it may take a long time for a correct diagnosis to be made. Symptoms often mimic those of other common complaints, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Your doctor should test you for coeliac disease before making a diagnosis of IBS.

Some people with coeliac disease experience no symptoms at all, however gluten will still be causing damage within the body. If left untreated, long-term complications may develop, including: osteoporosis, anaemias, fertility issues and, in rare cases, some forms of cancer.

 

Diagnosis

The first stage of testing for coeliac disease involves a blood test. This test can usually be performed in your GP surgery.

If your blood test is positive, you will be referred to a gut specialist (gastroenterologist) at your local hospital who will perform a procedure called an ‘endoscopy’. This allows the doctor to examine the health of your small bowel. During the endoscopy, a small sample of cells from your gut will be taken for closer examination, this is called a small bowel biopsy.

If your endoscopy and biopsy show signs of the type of gut damage associated with coeliac disease, you will be given a formal diagnosis of the condition.

IMPORTANT: It is essential that you continue to eat a normal gluten-containing diet throughout the diagnostic process, otherwise the results of any coeliac tests may be falsely negative. Do not start a gluten-free diet until your diagnosis has been confirmed by a specialist. It is recommended that you consume gluten in at least one meal per day for 6 weeks prior to undergoing these tests.