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A gluten free diet can help manage coeliac disease or gluten intolerance.

A gluten free diet can help manage coeliac disease or gluten intolerance.
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Coeliac disease and gluten intolerance

Coeliac disease, one cause of ‘gluten intolerance’, is caused by an abnormal immune response to gluten (a protein found in grains such as wheat, rye, barley and oats) that damages the small bowel and affects food absorption.

This can result in health problems such as malnutrition and osteoporosis

The abnormal immune response to gluten causes damage to the small bowel when the tiny, finger-like projections lining the bowel, called villi, become inflamed and flattened. This is called villous atrophy and it reduces the available surface area of the bowel to absorb nutrients from food.

People with coeliac disease can have severe symptoms, or they may have no obvious symptoms at all. Common symptoms include:

Check your symptoms with healthdirect’s Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

Coeliac disease affects people of all ages and gender, but you must be born with a genetic predisposition to the disease for it to develop. Environmental factors then play an important role in triggering the disease. This can happen at any age from infancy to adulthood.

It is very important to be properly diagnosed with coeliac disease by a doctor because it is a serious medical condition that affects people for their whole life. Coeliac disease is an important cause of gluten sensitivity (or gluten intolerance).

If you think you may have coeliac disease don’t stop eating foods that contain gluten until after you have been diagnosed as stopping gluten means the tests are unreliable. Diagnosis involves blood tests and a small bowel biopsy (tiny samples of your small bowel will be collected by a doctor).

Coeliac disease can’t be cured, but it can be controlled with a strict, lifelong gluten free diet. If coeliac disease is not well controlled it can lead to complications such as osteoporosis, infertility, chronic poor health, depression and teeth problems. However, early diagnosis and treatment of coeliac disease significantly reduces the risk of most complications ever occurring.

Sources: Coeliac Australia (Associated conditions, Coeliac disease, Diagnosis, Living with coeliac disease, Symptoms), Gastroenterological Society of Australia (Coeliac disease, Coeliac disease, PDF - document)

Last reviewed: August 2015

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Coeliac disease is a condition caused by an abnormal immune response, or sensitivity, to a dietary protein known as gluten. Gluten is found in wheat, rye and barley.

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Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bones become fragile, leading to a higher risk of breaks or fractures. A minor bump or fall can be enough to cause a break in someone with osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is one of the most common health problems associated with coeliac disease. This factsheet explains how coeliac disease can affect your bones, how to find out if you are at risk of osteoporosis, and what you can do to help protect your bone health.

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In people with coeliac disease, gluten (a protein in many cereal foods such as wheat, rye, barley and possibly oats) causes damage to the lining of the smallintestine (bowel). This damage affects the digestion of foods and nutrients. Nutrients are not absorbed properly, causing a range of health problems.

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Coeliac disease and breastfeeding | Australian Breastfeeding Association

There is very little information available for breastfeeding mothers who may be concerned about coeliac disease and their breastfed baby. ABA asked Penny Dellsperger (BSc (Nutrition), Accredited Practising Dietitian and coeliac disease expert) questions about this topic:

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Coeliac disease is a chronic inflammatory disease of the small bowel. In genetically susceptible individuals, ingestion of gluten causes injury to the lining of the small bowel, resulting in diarrhoea and malabsorption of nutrients and minerals.

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Coeliac disease - Lab Tests Online AU

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune diseasecharacterised by an inappropriate immune response to gluten. Gluten is aprotein found in wheat, similar proteins are found in barley and rye and to a lesser extent in oats.This response leads to inflammation of the small intestine and to damage and destruction of the villi that line the intestinal wall. The villi are projections, small tissue folds that increase the surface area of the intestine and allow nutrients, vitamins, minerals, fluids, and electrolytes to be absorbed into the body. When a susceptible person is exposed to gluten, their body produces autoantibodies that act against constituents of the intestinal villi. As long as the person continues to be exposed to the proteins, they will continue to produce these autoantibodies. When villi are damaged or destroyed, the body is much less capable of absorbing food including iron and vitamins. They may begin to develop symptoms associated with malnutrition and malabsorption. Malnutrition causes weight loss in adults and growth delay and failure to gain weight in children. Malabsorption causes diarrhoea and foul smelling bowel motions that float and have a greasy appearance because of the unabsorbed fats and oils in them.

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