Coeliac disease may be one of the most common chronic diseases in the world, affecting around one percent of the population. A New Zealand study showed it is as common as 1 in 83 in Canterbury – this is one of the highest rates in the world – 1.2%. According to an international source, there are estimated to be up to 14,000 undiagnosed coeliacs in New Zealand. The level of awareness of this condition is still generally low.
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease where eating gluten-containing grains causes antibodies to attack the gut. This condition can also affect the whole body. It is inherited genetically, and seems to be more common in females. Within families, it is commonly inherited along with other autoimmune diseases, including thyroid problems, Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, psoriasis, Crohn’s disease and multiple sclerosis. Other conditions that can have associations with coeliac disease include epilepsy and neurological disorders, alopecia (hair loss), anxiety, depression, arthritis, ADHD, autism and headaches or migraines.
The commonest reasons adults may be checked for coeliac disease are because they have anaemia, irritable bowel syndrome, thyroid problems or osteoporosis, as well as a family history of coeliac disease. The most common reason a child would be tested for it would be if he or she was not growing.
It is very important to diagnose coeliac disease early because the treatment is simple (avoiding gluten-containing foods), and you can prevent many health problems that it causes. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and oats. People with coeliac disease can’t eat cereals, bread, pasta, some processed foods and beer.
A person who tests positive for coeliac disease should still be treated even if they have no symptoms.
You should consider yourself at higher risk of coeliac disease if, in addition to the above conditions, if you have had:
What is Important?
For further information visit the NZ Coeliac Society.
Understanding Coeliac Disease PDF (48KB)
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