10 facts about coeliac disease that you may not know

10 facts about coeliac disease that you may not know

Coeliac disease is among the most common autoimmune diseases worldwide, affecting around 1 in 100 people in the UK.

But how much do people really know about coeliac disease? And how is it different from food allergies and other sensitivities/intolerances?

In this blog, we explore coeliac disease, what it is, and the facts about this condition that you may not know.

What is coeliac disease?

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease that develops over time because of a sensitivity to gluten: a protein found in certain cereals including wheat, rye, and barley, and commonly used in food products such as cereal, bread, and pasta.

When a person with coeliac disease eats gluten, this causes the body’s immune system to attack its own tissue, causing damage to the gut lining and preventing the body from adequately absorbing nutrients from food.

If left untreated, it can lead to severe complications, which can negatively impact on a person’s quality of life.

Here are 10 more facts about coeliac disease that you need to know…

1. An estimated 1% of the world’s population has coeliac disease

This is according to research published in 2018, on the global prevalence of coeliac disease.

However, many people who have coeliac disease are thought to be undiagnosed, meaning that this figure could be higher.

2. Coeliac disease is hereditary

Research into coeliac disease has shown that it often runs in families. In fact, those who have a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, child) with the condition have been found to be at greater risk of developing coeliac disease.

This makes genetic testing for coeliac disease – like the kind offered by AlphaBiolabs – an effective tool for determining the likelihood of developing the condition in the future.

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This type of test looks for the presence of the Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) DQ2 and DQ8 genes: the most common genes observed in coeliac disease patients.

3. Many people with coeliac disease do not know they have the condition

The effects of coeliac disease can range from mild to severe, depending on the person.

If symptoms are mild, a person can have coeliac disease for a long time without knowing it. The only way to know for sure if you have the condition is to get a test to either confirm or rule out the possibility of coeliac disease.  

4. Symptoms of coeliac disease can start at any age

Coeliac disease develops over time and symptoms of the condition can start at any age. It is most common among adults aged between 50 and 70.

Symptoms can include an itchy rash (dermatitis herpetiformis), bloating and flatulence, constipation or hard stools, diarrhoea or loose stools, indigestion, nausea and stomach aches.

5. Coeliac disease can sometimes be mistaken for gluten sensitivity or a wheat allergy

Because coeliac disease shares symptoms with other food sensitivities and intolerances, it can be easy for the condition to be misdiagnosed.

However, it is important not to confuse coeliac disease with other conditions, like gluten sensitivity/intolerance or a wheat allergy.

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition that requires gluten to be removed from the diet altogether to prevent long-term health complications.  

A gluten sensitivity – sometimes called non-coeliac gluten sensitivity – or intolerance may cause similar symptoms, but it is not clear how the immune system might be involved; no antibodies are produced, and there is seemingly no damage to the gut lining.

A wheat allergy occurs when the body produces antibodies to the proteins found in wheat, causing a different kind of immune system reaction. In severe cases, it can lead to anaphylaxis.

6. A lifelong gluten-free diet is the only way to treat coeliac disease

There is no cure for coeliac disease. However, it can be controlled by adhering to a lifelong gluten-free diet.

This means that a person with coeliac disease should avoid eating any food products that contain gluten including (but not limited to) bread, pasta, cereals, biscuits, and cakes.

It is also important to check food labels, as many foods (particularly processed foods) include additives and flavourings that contain gluten.

7. Undiagnosed coeliac disease can lead to health complications over time

Most people with coeliac disease can effectively manage the condition by excluding gluten from their diet for the rest of their life.

However, people who have undiagnosed coeliac disease, have been misdiagnosed as having a different condition, or who have very few symptoms, may be at risk of developing further problems associated with coeliac disease if they unwittingly continue to consume gluten.

Complications can include osteoporosis, lactose intolerance and anaemia.

8. Gluten is not solely found in food and drink products

Gluten can also be found in non-food products including cosmetics and certain medications.

This means that if you have coeliac disease, it is very important to check labels carefully.

9. Coeliac disease has been linked to some cancers

Complications arising from coeliac disease can vary depending on the person.

However, one example of a complication arising from improperly managed or unmanaged coeliac disease is a slightly increased risk of cancer.

10. Testing can be used to diagnose coeliac disease

Although many people with coeliac disease may not even know that they have it, it is possible to confirm or rule out coeliac disease with diagnostic tests.

If you are experiencing symptoms that could indicate coeliac disease (e.g. bloating, flatulence, stomach pains etc.) you should speak to your doctor who will be able to provide guidance on next steps for testing and diagnosis.

This usually includes blood testing for antibodies and, depending on the results of the blood test, a gut biopsy to assess any damage to the gut lining.

However, before undergoing more invasive testing, an at-home genetic test for coeliac disease can be a helpful option for determining whether you are at risk of developing coeliac disease in the future.

Where can I buy a test for coeliac disease?

For just £99, an AlphaBiolabs Genetic Coeliac Disease Test can tell you whether you have the genes associated with coeliac disease, with only a simple cheek swab DNA sample required.  

Our test uses Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) typing to confirm or rule out the potential of developing coeliac disease by analysing six DNA markers for the HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8 genes.

Simply collect your cheek swab samples at home, return them to our award-winning laboratory, and receive your secure, confidential results via email in 4-5 days.  

The test can be performed on anyone of any age, from young children to adults. However, we strongly advise that you speak to your doctor before making any decisions regarding dietary changes based on the results of the test.

For more information, contact our friendly and knowledgeable Customer Services team on 0333 600 1300 or email health@alphabiolabs.com.

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