Symptoms of coeliac disease: when to consult a doctor?
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease, which occurs in genetically predisposed individuals and mainly affects women. It is the body’s reaction to the ingestion of gluten, a protein complex found in many cereals, such as wheat, spelt, barley, rye, oats and kamut
In coeliacs, gluten triggers an inflammatory process in the intestinal villi, the structures in the intestine that absorb nutrients and convert them into energy.
What are the symptoms of the coeliac condition?
The manifestations of the coeliac condition vary greatly from person to person, and although the most well-known symptoms are weight loss and diarrhoea, not all coeliacs experience symptoms of the gastro-intestinal tract.
Some of the signs that may raise suspicion of coeliac disease are:
- Weight loss
- Abdominal bloating and pain
- Canker sores in the mouth
- Alteration of tooth enamel
- Anaemia, often due to iron deficiency
- Loss of bone density (osteoporosis) and bone fragility (osteomalacia)
- Dermatitis herpetiformis, with rashes on the elbows, knees, scalp and chest.
- Headaches and tiredness
- Joint pain
- Tingling in the legs
Coeliac disease, when to see a doctor?
Detecting the presence of coeliac disease is crucial for health and in children, for their healthy and balanced growth.
The main consequence of coeliac disease is malabsorption of nutrients – including minerals and vitamins – which can delay childhood development or cause excessive weight loss.
In adults malabsorption can cause anaemia, osteoporosis and osteomalacia.
Coeliac disease can also affect fertility and the regularity of the menstrual cycle
A doctor should be consulted if diarrhoea or digestive problems persist for more than two weeks.
In the case of children, it is advisable to consult the paediatrician in the event of paleness, irritability, slow growth, a swollen belly and malodorous stools.
Coeliac disease is a disease with a good degree of familiarity. If you have a family member with coeliac disease, it is best to seek advice from your doctor, even if you have no symptoms.
How is the coeliac condition treated?
The coeliac condition is diagnosed by means of certain tests indicated by the gastroenterologist during a preliminary examination; a blood test, in particular, will check the levels of certain antibodies that signal an immune reaction to gluten.
Once the diagnosis has been made, the doctor will prepare a gluten-free diet, which the patient must adhere to scrupulously.
The presence on the market of numerous gluten-free products, which are certified and labelled accordingly, makes managing the disease a little easier.
A gluten-free diet is sufficient, as no medication is needed to treat the coeliac condition.