Only 1-in-5 Australians with Coeliac Disease know they have it according to new research from a consortium of scientists led by Dr Jason Tye-Din of Walter & Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne.
In people with coeliac disease, the immune system reacts abnormally to gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats), causing small bowel damage. If left undetected it can lead to serious medical complications such as infertility, liver failure and cancer.
The finding suggests that Coeliac Disease is the most underdiagnosed illness in the country. The study also found there are an extra 100,000 more cases across Australia than previously predicted.
Coeliac Australia spokesperson David Sullivan says the findings deliver a powerful message about the prevalence of coeliac disease.
“We applaud the exceptional work on this study. The figures indicate that 1 in 60 women and 1 in 80 men are living with coeliac disease. The rate is 50% more widespread than previous evidence had indicated.
“Valuable research like this highlights the need for greater awareness of this often misunderstood condition. We urge health professionals to be mindful of the symptoms of coeliac disease and refer patients for testing via a simple blood test when symptoms present.”
Coeliac disease is usually diagnosed with an antibody test that measures immune response to gluten. Positive results are then confirmed with a bowel biopsy which some consider costly and invasive.
In this study, researchers used an innovative new method of testing that combines a seriesof traditional antibody tests with a genetic risk factor test. This approach, performed on one simple blood sample, provides a simpler and more comprehensive and accurate result, reducing bowel biopsy procedures in those who don’t need it.
Dr Tye-Din, a member of Coeliac Australia’s Medical Advisory Committee, says this new approach makes testing more accessible and appealing to people who suffer from coeliac disease symptoms.
“Now we appreciate the significant burden of undetected coeliac disease in Australia we hope this will encourage healthcare professionals to be vigilant for coeliac disease, and ultimately reduce the number of cases that remain undiagnosed.”
Coeliac disease cannot be cured, but once diagnosed it can be controlled with a lifelong gluten-free diet.
Symptoms of Coeliac Disease
According to Coeliac Australia, symptoms of Coeliac Disease can include one or more of the following:
- gastrointestinal symptoms e.g. diarrhoea, constipation, nausea, vomiting, flatulence, cramping, bloating, abdominal pain, steatorrhea
- fatigue, weakness and lethargy
- iron deficiency anaemia and/or other vitamin and mineral deficiencies
- failure to thrive or delayed puberty in children
- weight loss (although some people may gain weight)
- bone and joint pains
- recurrent mouth ulcers and/or swelling of mouth or tongue
- altered mental alertness and irritability
- skin rashes such as dermatitis herpetiformis
- easy bruising of the skin.
People who experience any of the following should also be screened for coeliac disease:
- early onset osteoporosis
- unexplained infertility
- family history of coeliac disease
- liver disease
- autoimmune disease, e.g. type 1 diabetes, autoimmune thyroid condition.
For further information and professional advice, see your medical practitioner.