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Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease. This means that it’s caused by your immune system mistakenly attacking your own tissues. In coeliac disease, this reaction happens when you eat a protein called gluten. Gluten is found in foods containing wheat, barley and rye. The reaction to eating gluten causes damage to the lining of your small intestine, which then can’t absorb nutrients properly.
The most common symptoms of coeliac disease are diarrhoea, tummy cramps, bloating and flatulence (passing excess wind). Other symptoms include unexplained weight loss and feeling very tired all the time. How severe the symptoms are can vary widely. Some people don’t get any symptoms at all.
If you have coeliac disease, you’ll need to make sure that you avoid all foods that contain gluten. This means anything containing wheat, barley or rye. Food labels should tell you if gluten is present so it’s important to get into the habit of reading these carefully. A dietitian can give you advice about what to eat, and you can get more information from the website of Coeliac UK (see our section ‘Other helpful websites’ for contact details).
Coeliac disease is usually diagnosed in a two-step process. First, you have a blood test to look for antibodies found in people with coeliac disease. If those are present, the diagnosis can be confirmed by having an intestinal biopsy. For more information, see our section on diagnosis.
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This information was published by Bupa's Health Content Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals and deemed accurate on the date of review. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition.
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