About 228,000 Australians live with coeliac disease – but up to 80% of sufferers don’t even know they have it. This week (13-20 March, 2013) is Coeliac Awareness Week, so with the help of Coeliac Australia (www.coeliac.org.au) we’ve put together a cheat sheet to help you understand what coeliac disease is, how you can recognise it, and why managing it may be easier than you think.
1. What is coeliac disease?
Coeliac disease is an intolerance to gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats. It’s a permanent condition – you can’t “grow out of it” – but the good news is it’s easily managed with a modified diet.
2. Can anyone get coeliac disease?
Coeliac disease is actually a genetic condition, so you need to be born with the predisposition. This also means it can run in the family, so if your parents have been diagnosed, you are at a greater risk of developing the disease – and the same is true for your children if you are a confirmed sufferer.
3. What are the symptoms and how can I be diagnosed?
One of the reasons coeliac disease is so under-diagnosed (it’s estimated that about 160,000 Australian don’t know they have it), is that the symptoms are so varied – and some people may not experience any symptoms at all! Common warning signs can include feeling fatigued, stomach pain, bloating and diarrhoea, weight loss and anaemia (low iron levels). If your doctor decides to test you for coeliac disease, it starts with a simple blood test.
4. What is the treatment, and is there a cure? What are the long-term effects on health?
There is no cure for coeliac disease, but treatment involves completely removing gluten from your diet. If untreated, coeliac disease can lead to a greater risk of developing osteoporosis, infertility, miscarriage, liver disease and type 1 diabetes. It can also stunt growth in children, as well as cause behavioural and developmental problems.
5. How do we adapt our eating habits if someone in our family has coeliac disease?
Swap your regular wheat products for gluten-free grains and alternatives, including corn, quinoa, buckwheat and rice. You’ll also find a growing range of gluten-free bread, cereal and pasta in supermarkets – check the packaging and always read the label. When baking, look for gluten-free recipes that use flour alternatives, such as almond meal.
6. If a family member is diagnosed with coeliac disease, should we all be tested?
Yes, but remember – testing positive for the gene doesn’t necessarily mean you will develop coeliac disease, it just increases your risk. There’s no need to start a gluten-free diet unless you have symptoms and are tested and diagnosed by your doctor.
Have you been diagnosed with coeliac disease? Tell us your story, and how you’ve adapted to a gluten-free diet.