Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disorder which causes the small intestine to react negatively when gluten is ingested. In a person with coeliac disease, gluten causes inflammation and flattening of the villi. This villious atrophy prohibits the absorption of nutrients from food such as calcium, vitamins and iron and over time can cause many other health problems such as infertility, lymphoma and anaemia. The only treatment for coeliac disease is a gluten free diet.
A person with undiagnosed or untreated coeliac disease will have such a reduced ability to absorb nutrients because the flattening of the villi in the small intestine caused the area for absorption to be reduced from a football field, to that of a table top.
Coeliac disease is diagnosed through a phased approach, firstly a blood test and then an endoscopy to examine the small intestine and take a biopsy, which will confirm the diagnosis of coeliac disease.
Firstly a blood test is used to confirm the presence of elevated antibodies that are typically present in a person who has untreated coeliac disease. The antibodies measured are anti-tissue transglutaminase antibodies (tTG-IgA) and deamidated gliadin peptide (DGP) IgA and IgG. Means as much to us as you!
If the blood tests come back positive for these antibodies you will be referred to a gastroenterologist who will schedule a time to perform an endoscopy. You will be placed under a light general anaesthetic for about 15 minutes. A camera will be inserted into the small intestine (via the throat) to take images. A biopsy will also be taken, this is a small sample of tissue which can be tested if the damage isn’t visible to the naked eye.
After this procedure you will need to wait a couple of weeks to have confirmation on the results. If you have coeliac disease the specialist will meet with you again to give you more information on the disease and some tips to deal with your new gluten free lifestyle.
The time after coeliac disease is confirmed can be an emotional one. Do plenty of research (we hope deglutenous aids you well in this). Learn how to read labels, it is a very important skill as a coeliac! Encourage your loved ones to read up on it or spend some time educating them. Typically you might feel a little discouraged by food for a while but once you realise how easy it is you will probably find your love for food and cooking will be back with a vengeance. It is also recommended that you join a local coeliac group or seek out some blogs, websites and social media pages from which you can gather quality information and some support.
You will be required to visit your gastroenterologist every 6 months in the early stages and will need to have another endoscopy to check up on progress about 18 months after diagnosis. After that point if your small intestine has shown good recovery you will not need to see you gastroenterologist again for some time, mine suggested five years (which seems a little scary) unless you are having problems.
Coeliac disease is one of the few diseases which leaves your destiny entirely in your own hands, a good diet being the only treatment. Live well, eat good wholesome foods and exercise and you will feel better!