Is coeliac disease serious?

Liz Wood Alphabiolabs

By Liz Wood, Health Testing Specialist at at AlphaBiolabs
Last reviewed: 14/12/2022

In this guide, we discuss whether coeliac disease is serious, and the complications that can arise from coeliac disease if it is not managed correctly.
Table of contents
  • What is coeliac disease?
  • What are the symptoms of coeliac disease?
  • Is coeliac disease serious?
  • What happens if coeliac disease is left untreated?
  • What are the complications of coeliac disease in adults?
  • What are the complications of coeliac disease in children?
  • What is the treatment for coeliac disease?
  • Where can I get a test for coeliac disease?

What is coeliac disease?

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes a person’s immune system to attack the lining of the intestines when they eat gluten.

This damages the intestines and makes it harder for the body to absorb nutrients from food.

Symptoms of coeliac disease can vary from mild to severe and will usually improve or go away altogether when gluten is removed from the diet.

What are the symptoms of coeliac disease?

Symptoms of coeliac disease can be mild in some people, but severe in others.

The most common symptoms include:

  • Bloating
  • Flatulence
  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Fatigue

Is coeliac disease serious?

Coeliac disease can range from mild to severe, depending on the person.

While there is no cure for coeliac disease, it can be easily managed by removing gluten from the diet entirely, and only eating gluten-free foods.

The more severe complications from coeliac disease are usually seen in people who continue to eat gluten. This includes circumstances where:

  • A person has continued to eat gluten following a diagnosis of coeliac disease (i.e. the condition has not been properly managed)
  • A person has mild symptoms and is therefore unaware that they have coeliac disease/has not yet been diagnosed
  • A person has been misdiagnosed as having a different condition, meaning they continue to eat gluten

Complications from undiagnosed or mismanaged coeliac disease (where the person continues consuming gluten) can include osteoporosis, anaemia, and even certain types of cancers.

If you are experiencing symptoms that could indicate coeliac disease, speak to your GP who will be able to offer guidance on next steps for testing and diagnosis.

What happens if coeliac disease is left untreated?

There is no ‘treatment’ for coeliac disease as such. However, the condition can be managed by removing gluten from the diet.

This means that any foods containing gluten should be avoided, including (but not limited to) bread, pasta, cereals, biscuits, and cakes.

However, if a person with coeliac disease continues eating gluten (i.e. if the condition is untreated), other complications can arise. These include:

  • Anaemia
  • Nerve damage
  • Osteoporosis
  • Problems with fertility
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Development of other autoimmune diseases associated with coeliac disease
  • Some cancers

More information on living with coeliac disease, and the effects if untreated, can be found at https://www.coeliac.org.uk/.

What are the complications of coeliac disease in adults?

Coeliac disease is most likely to develop in early childhood (8-12 months), when gluten is first introduced to the diet, or in later adulthood (between 40-60 years of age).

In adults – as is the case in all people with coeliac disease – complications from the condition usually arise when the person continues consuming gluten-containing foods.

Complications from coeliac disease can vary depending on the person, but can include anaemia, osteoporosis, nerve damage, fertility problems, and even some cancers.

What are the complications of coeliac disease in children?

Symptoms of coeliac disease can arise at any age but are most likely to develop during early childhood when gluten-containing foods are first introduced to the diet (8-12 months).

Unfortunately, many children who have coeliac disease are not diagnosed until they are older, because it can often be misdiagnosed as another childhood illness.

This means that children can suffer complications related to untreated coeliac disease. These may include:

  • Stunted growth
  • Delayed puberty
  • Defects of the tooth enamel
  • Anaemia
  • Fatigue

If you think your child may have coeliac disease, you should contact your GP for advice.

However, an at-home coeliac disease test can also be helpful, and the results can be shared with medical professionals to help facilitate a faster diagnosis.

An AlphaBiolabs Genetic Coeliac Disease Test uses cheek swabs that are rubbed quickly and painlessly on the inside of the cheek, to test for the genes linked to coeliac disease.

The test is suitable for children of all ages. However, we strongly advise that you speak to your GP before making any decisions regarding dietary changes after receiving the results.

What is the treatment for coeliac disease?

Coeliac disease can only be controlled by adhering to a lifelong gluten-free diet. This means that any foods containing gluten should be avoided, including (but not limited to) bread, pasta, cereals, biscuits, and cakes.

If you have been diagnosed with coeliac disease, it is especially important to check the labels on any food you buy, as many foods (particularly processed foods) include additives and flavourings that contain gluten.

Once a person with coeliac disease removes gluten from their diet, they will typically start to see a significant improvement in their health.

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

If you think you might have coeliac disease, you should speak to your GP, who can arrange further testing.

Where can I get a test for coeliac disease?

If you are experiencing symptoms of coeliac disease, it is recommended that you speak to your GP who will be able to advise you on the next steps for testing and diagnosis.

However, confirmatory tests for coeliac disease can be invasive. For this reason, it can be helpful to take a non-invasive home coeliac disease test in the first instance.

This type of test can help you rule out the possibility of having coeliac disease, or get a diagnosis more quickly via your GP, depending on the results.

An AlphaBiolabs Genetic Coeliac Disease Test provides an accurate and reliable way of finding out whether you carry the genes linked to coeliac disease, with only a cheek swab required.

This quick and painless method of sample collection can also be performed on children of any age, who may be displaying symptoms of coeliac disease. However, we strongly advise that you speak to your GP before making any decisions regarding dietary changes after receiving the results.

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

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Liz Wood, AlphaBiolabs

Liz Wood

Health Testing Specialist at at AlphaBiolabs

Liz joined AlphaBiolabs in 2021, where she holds the role of Health Testing Specialist.

As well as overseeing a range of health tests, she is also the lead on several validation projects for the company’s latest health test offerings.

During her time at AlphaBiolabs, Liz has played an active role in the validation of the company’s Genetic Lactose Intolerance Test and Genetic Coeliac Disease Test.

An advocate for preventative healthcare, Liz’s main scientific interests centre around human disease and reproductive health. Her qualifications include a BSc in Biology and an MSc in Biology of Health and Disease.

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