One in 100 people suffer from coeliac disease
COELIAC disease occurs when people react to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye.
Sometimes a person with coeliac disease may also be sensitive to oats.
Coeliac disease may affect adults and children.
It is estimated that 1 in 100 people suffer from coeliac disease and, in fact, Irish people have one of the highest prevalences of coeliac disease in the world. Coeliac disease also tends to run in families.
Coeliac disease is not a food allergy or a food intolerance. It is not contagious.
It is an auto immune disease and occurs when the body's immune system starts to attack itself.
This results in inflammation which damages the lining of the small intestine and reduces the coeliac's ability to absorb nutrients.
As food is poorly absorbed this may result in deficiencies in vitamins and minerals.
Anaemia, a deficiency in iron, is common. Other common symptoms include excessive wind, bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhoea.
Sometimes, an itchy skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis may also be present.
Eating a gluten free diet is the only treatment for coeliac disease.
Symptoms will normally resolve in a few weeks when the correct diet is followed.
Gluten is present in cakes, biscuits, flour, pizza, beer, and many manufactured foods like ready-made meals, gravy, soups, chocolate and crisps.
Pay attention to food labels and look for the gluten free sign.
The gluten free diet is for life and symptoms will return if gluten in eaten again.
The possibility of cross contamination is important so use a different knife and chopping board when cutting regular and gluten free bread. Even small amounts of gluten can cause upset.
If you suspect you have coeliac disease then visit your doctor, who will carry out a blood test. It is important that you eat a diet containing gluten for at least six weeks before this blood test is carried out or it may not give an accurate result.
Fortunately, in recent years the selection of available gluten free foods in supermarkets and pharmacies has improved dramatically.
These include gluten free bread, pasta, biscuits, and flour.
Always feel free to ask your pharmacist for advice or if you would like some food in particular ordered for you.
In addition, you could look up www.coeliac.ie which contains plenty of useful information.