What are the symptoms of coeliac disease?

What are the symptoms of coeliac disease?

What are the symptoms of coeliac disease?

The symptoms and signs of coeliac disease can often vary between each person and also differ between adults and children.

The signs seen in adults are commonly:

  • Weight loss
  • Diarrhoea
  • Fatigue

Other signs in adults can also include:

  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Gas
  • Vomiting

Bear in mind that more than 50% of adults who have been diagnosed with celiac disease may show symptoms and signs that have no relation to one’s digestive system, these include:

  • Osteoporosis – This is a loss of the bone density or
    • Osteomalacia - This is the softening of the bone
  • Anaemia – This is normally the result of iron deficiency
  • Blistery and itchy skin rash – This is known as dermatitis herpetiformis
  • Damage to teeth enamel and teeth discolouration
  • Headaches
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Joint pain
  • Irregular menstrual cycles
  • Miscarriage and infertility
  • Injury to the nervous system – This includes tingling and numbness in the hands and feet and issues with balance, as well as cognitive impairment
  • Hyposplenism – This is known as a reduced splenic function, meaning that the spleen does not function at full capacity (the spleen acts as part of the immune system, filtering and recycling blood, regulating the number of blood cells as well as helping to fight infection).
  • Heartburn and acid reflux

The signs seen in children under two years of age commonly include:

  • Chronic diarrhoea
  • A swollen and bloated belly
  • Vomiting
  • Poor appetite
  • Muscle depletion

The signs seen in older children commonly include:

  • Constipation
  • Irritability
  • Diarrhoea
  • Weight loss
  • Delayed puberty (related to issues with growth and development due to not being able to properly digest the nutrients in food)
  • Short stature (again related to issues with growth and development in not being able to digest the nutrients in food)
  • Neurological issues such as learning disabilities, seizures, lack of coordination of muscles and ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder)

Dermatitis herpetiformis

This is a blistering and itchy rash that is a skin disease stemming from gluten intolerance. This rash will typically occur on the knees, torso, elbows, buttocks and scalp. DH (dermatitis herpetiformis) is a commonly seen in those with coeliac disease. DH appears in the form of an itchy rash on the skin which is made up of blisters and bumps. It affects about 15 to 25% of those with celiac disease. People who suffer from DH will not normally have the other digestive symptoms and issues.

This rash is commonly associated with the changes of the small intestinal lining. The treatment for the rash is typically done through the patient following a strict gluten-free diet, along with medication to control the rash as it is accompanied by itchiness which can be bothersome.

Keep in mind that the symptoms tend to vary from one person to another and are dependent on a number of factors, including:

  • The age that someone started to eat gluten products
  • The amount of time that someone was breastfed as a baby
  • The severity of the damage of the intestinal lining
  • The amount of gluten products one eats

In some cases, the patient will not show any symptoms, yet they are able to still develop the long-term complications associated with the disease. We will discuss these in depth later on in the article.

When to see a doctor

An appointment with a doctor should be booked if the patient is experiencing any digestive pain or discomfort or diarrhoea that lasts for longer than 14 days. If a child is irritable, pale, has bulky and foul-smelling stools or is not growing accordingly, then phone a doctor.

Before attempting a gluten-free diet, it is best to consult with a doctor as there will need to be gluten in the patient’s diet before they are tested for coeliac disease. Following a gluten-free diet before being tested can alter the results.

If someone in the patient’s family suffers from the condition, then they should speak to a doctor about their risk factors and possibly be tested for the condition.  

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