Escalation in the amount of adults diagnosed with coeliac disease

Eilish O'Regan

Growing numbers of adults are being diagnosed with coeliac disease which leaves them reacting badly to foods which contain gluten.

Doctors at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin pointed out that originally it was thought to be a childhood syndrome but it is now recognised as a common condition which may be diagnosed at any age, affecting many organ systems.

Coeliac disease is caused by a reaction to gluten, which is found in wheat and other similar proteins contained in rye, barley and oats.

If a sufferer eats a food with gluten, their intestine is inflamed and they cannot absorb food properly, causing diarrhoea and poor nourishment.

They have to adopt a special gluten-free diet and this may not always be easy because gluten many be hidden in certain foods.

The doctors at the department of gastroenterology in Beaumont carried out a study which looked at 47 adults diagnosed with coeliac disease at the centre over a year.

"In our patient cohort, the presenting symptom was diarrhoea in 40pc of patients, while 34pc did not have any symptoms, and 21pc presented with anaemia."

Women tended to be in their mid-forties and men in their late 50s at the time of diagnosis.

"The classic presentation of coeliac disease is early childhood onset of diarrhoea, weight loss, and failure to thrive," the wrote in the 'Irish Medical Journal'.

"Although the rate of diagnosis is increasing, coeliac disease remains undiagnosed in most affected individuals."

The average duration of symptoms prior to diagnosis was 9.1 months but ranged from two to 48 months.

Women presented more commonly with non-gastrointestinal symptoms compared to males. Twenty-seven per cent of women had anaemia (lack of iron/low energy) compared to 12pc of men.

"On the other hand, only 30pc of females presented with diarrhoea compared to 59pc of men.

"Diarrhoea was the main clinical presentation in 61pc of patients with gastrointestinal symptoms, while dyspepsia (heartburn/nausea) and mouth ulcers were the presenting symptoms in the remaining 39pc.

There are more than 40,000 coeliacs in Ireland. However, it is believed that the west of Ireland has one of the highest incidences of the disease which can run in families.

All of the symptoms of coeliac disease can also be a signal of other conditions, so it is important to get a professional diagnosis before eliminating anything from your diet.

For most people who are diagnosed the gluten-free diet will stop symptoms and improvements will be seen within days. The small intestine is usually completely healed in three to six months in children while it will take around two years for adults.

Common foods with gluten



Breakfast cereals

Most types of bread