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Key facts on coeliac disease

  • Coeliac disease is not a food allergy but an autoimmune disease caused by intolerance to gluten.
  • Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Some people are also sensitive to oats.
  • Damage to the gut lining occurs when gluten is eaten.
  • At least 1 in 100 people are estimated to suffer from coeliac disease in the UK and also 1 in 100 in Europe; however, there is some evidence to support that only 1 in 8 cases is diagnosed.
  • The average length of time taken for someone to be diagnosed with the disease from the onset of symptoms is an appalling 13 years! 
  • Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Some people are also sensitive to oats.
  • Obvious sources of gluten include bread, pasta, flours, cereals, cakes and biscuits. It is often used as an ingredient in many favourite foods such as fish fingers, sausages, gravies, sauces and soy sauce.
  • There is no cure for the condition; the only treatment is lifelong adherence to a strict gluten-free diet.
  • If a gluten-free diet is not followed, the disease can ultimately lead to malnutrition, osteoporosis, bowel cancer and also cause infertility problems.
  • If someone with coeliac disease accidentally eats gluten, they are likely to be unwell within a few hours; symptoms can include severe diarrhoea and vomiting and can last several days.
  • Gluten-free food can be contaminated by crumbs in toasters, jam, butter, knives, breadboards and other utensils.
  • Cereal-fed animals are gluten-free so people with coeliac disease can eat them.
  • The coeliac disease runs in families; studies show that if a family member has the condition, there is a 1 in 10 chance of a close relative developing the disease.
  • People who think they have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) may actually have undiagnosed coeliac disease.
  • People with coeliac disease cannot join the armed forces.
  • People medically diagnosed with coeliac disease and Dermatitis Herpetiformis (DH) can get gluten-free staple food on prescription.
  • Dermatitis Herpetiformis is a skin presentation of coeliac disease.

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