DATE: 22 May, 2008 SUBJECT:
CDHB Supports Coeliac Awareness Week
Coeliac disease is a relatively common condition that often goes undiagnosed because many people learn to live with the symptoms, despite never feeling completely well.
Canterbury District Health Board Gastroenterologist Dr Richard Gearry, who is also a Senior Lecturer at the University of Otago, Christchurch, said about one in every 100 people had the disease. However, about four out of five of these people did not realise they had it.
“It’s a tip of the iceberg type disease in that an enormous number of people are not diagnosed with it. Some people are asymptomatic or have symptoms but tolerate them,” he said.
The theme of this year’s Coeliac Awareness Week, which will be held from Saturday 24 May to Friday 30 May, is “Are you 1 in 100?”, highlighting the fact that many people with the disease do not realise they have it.
Coeliac disease is as an inflammatory condition caused by an intolerance to gluten, which is found in wheat, barley and rye. Many people also react to oats. Gluten causes the body’s immune system to be activated inappropriately, which leads to the lining of the small bowel or intestine becoming inflamed and damaged.
Common symptoms of the disease include fatigue, weight loss or gain, abdominal pain, bloating, vomiting, diarrhoea and skin rashes. People with the disease may also develop anaemia or have folate or vitamin B12 deficiencies. After a blood test, which can detect specific antibodies suggestive of coeliac disease, a firm diagnosis is made by a test known as a gastroscopy, which enables the small bowel to be examined, and a biopsy taken. People are treated for the disease by removing all foods that contain gluten from their diet.