Coeliac Disease in Australia

Coeliac disease is one of the most common autoimmune diseases in Australia

What is Coeliac Disease?

From the Celiac Disease Foundation, Coeliac disease, or Celiac Disease, is a serious autoimmune disease that occurs in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine.

When people with coeliac disease eat gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley), their body mounts an immune response that attacks the small intestine. These attacks lead to damage to the villi, small fingerlike projections that line the small intestine, that promote nutrient absorption. When the villi get damaged, nutrients cannot be absorbed properly into the body.

How common is Coeliac Disease in Australia?

From newsGP, Coeliac disease affects approximately one in 70 Australians, making it one of the most common autoimmune diseases. Yet it remains to be one of Australia’s most under-recognised medical conditions, with around 80% of cases undiagnosed.

What are some of the symptoms related to Coeliac Disease?

From Coeliac Australia, the symptoms of coeliac disease vary considerably. Some people experience severe symptoms while others are asymptomatic (they have no obvious symptoms at all).

Symptoms can include one or more of the following:

  • Persistent gastrointestinal symptoms e.g. diarrhoea, constipation, nausea, vomiting, flatulence, cramping, bloating, abdominal pain, steatorrhea
  • Prolonged fatigue, weakness and lethargy
  • Iron deficiency anaemia and/or other vitamin and mineral deficiencies
  • Failure to thrive or delayed puberty in children
  • Unexplained weight loss 
  • Severe or recurrent mouth ulcers
  • Skin rashes such as dermatitis herpetiformis

What are the conditions that Coeliac disease is related to?

People who experience any of the following should also be screened for coeliac disease:

  • Early onset osteoporosis
  • Unexplained infertility or recurrent miscarriage
  • First-degree relatives of people with coeliac disease
  • Persistently raised liver enzymes with unknown cause autoimmune disease e.g. type 1 diabetes, autoimmune thyroid condition
  • Dental enamel defects
  • Down’s or Turner Syndrome

Coeliac Australia

What are the causes of Coeliac Disease?

From healthyWA, you must be born with a genetic predisposition to develop coeliac disease. But there is believed to be an environmental effect when it is triggered. 

Some of the factors that increase an individual’s risk for Coeliac disease include:

  • A family history of the disease
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Liver disease
  • An existing autoimmune disease

What occurs if Coeliac Disease is left untreated?

From the Celiac Disease Foundation, if Coeliac Disease is left untreated, there is a large risk of developing serious health complications, including: 

  • Early onset osteoporosis or osteopenia
  • Gall bladder malfunction
  • Heart disease
  • Infertility and miscarriage
  • Iron deficiency anemia
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Liver failure
  • Malnutrition
  • Neurological symptoms, including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), headaches, lack of muscle coordination, seizures, ataxia, dementia, neuropathy, myopathy, and multifocal leukoencephalopathy
  • Pancreatic insufficiency
  • Small intestine cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
  • AND other autoimmune diseases

What help is available for Australians with Coeliac Disease? 

From the US National Insitute of Diabetes and Digestive, and Kidney Diseases, the treatment available for individuals with Coeliac disease is primarily the use of a gluten-free diet. Your doctor will explain the gluten-free diet and may refer to you a registered dietitian who specializes in treating people who have celiac disease. A dietitian can teach you how to avoid gluten while eating a healthy, balanced diet. 

You will need to remove foods and drinks that contain gluten from your diet. Following a gluten-free diet can relieve Coeliac disease symptoms and heal damage to the small intestine. People with celiac disease need to follow a gluten-free diet for life.

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