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Number of coeliacs may be up to 30,000

SOME 30,000 people in Ireland could be undiagnosed coeliacs – and this could have a major knock-on effect on our health service, experts have said.

It is estimated the disease affects at least 1pc of the population, but only a small number of sufferers have actually been correctly diagnosed.

Pearse Stokes from The Gluten-Free Shop said celebrities have helped highlight the problems associated with eating gluten, which can cause a range of symptoms from headaches to stomach aches and stunted growth.

PRESSURE

And he said that coeliacs are at risk of cancer, lymphoma and osteoporosis.

"The medical profession is sitting on its hands and has done for many years," Mr Stokes told the Herald.

"Consumers who were diagnosed recently tell us shocking stories about the pressure they have to put on their GP in order to get the tests.

"Patients, especially those without medical insurance, can experience a long wait for hospital appointments," he added.

"Throughout this time they are expected to consume the food that is making them ill, in order to ensure the validity of the test results."

Mr Stokes said gluten intolerance and coeliac disease were not the same, but that the symptoms of both could be alleviated by not eating gluten.

"To be a coeliac you have to pass a certain level of qualification – you need to get a blood test and testing of the intestine; that is the only way someone can say that they are a coeliac," he explained.

"But there are people who can't wait for months or years and some people discover through their own experimentation that they feel like a new person if they change their diet."

However, Mr Stokes said that after testing, treatment is simple and effective.

And coeliacs who keep to the diet should enjoy a long and healthy life.

"Customers come in and we wonder how has this person has lived for so long without being diagnosed," he said.

"It stunts your growth because there is malabsorption.

"We hear stories of regret, of lost opportunity, of chronic ill health and of missed diagnosis spanning 40 years or more," he added.

clairemurphy@herald.ie


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