Coeliac disease


Coeliac disease affects the small intestine and is due to sensitivity to gluten, which is a protein found in wheat. Similar proteins are found in rye, barley and, to a much smaller extent, oats.


Medical text written January 1995 by the Coeliac Society. Approved January 1995 by Dr P Howdle. Last updated September 2010 by Professor P Howdle, Consultant Physician and Gastroenterologist (retired – formerly of St James’s University Hospital, Leeds, UK).

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may occur at any age and may include weight loss, vomiting and diarrhoea. Many patients, however, may have mild, long-standing, non-gastrointestinal symptoms such as tiredness, lethargy and breathlessness. A baby predisposed to coeliac disease could, after the introduction of gluten-containing solids, develop pale, bulky, offensive smelling stools, and become miserable, lethargic and generally fail to thrive. Most children with the disease will have mild non-gastrointestinal symptoms, as in adults.

How is it diagnosed?

The condition is diagnosed by means of an endoscopic small intestinal biopsy, where the mucosal lining of the small intestine is seen to be damaged by inflammation, presumed to be a result of a reaction to the gluten in the diet. There is now an accurate blood test available for screening, but the diagnosis should still be confirmed by an endoscopic biopsy.

How is it treated?

Coeliac disease is treated with a gluten-free diet, which allows the mucosal lining to heal and return towards normal. Screening suggests that the prevalence of the disease in the general population may be as high as 1 in 100, but many cases often go undiagnosed so that the number of diagnosed cases is approximately 1 in 800.

Inheritance patterns and prenatal diagnosis

Inheritance patterns
Coeliac disease, though not inherited directly, does tend to run in families, there being a 1 in 10 chance of having an affected relative.

Prenatal diagnosis

Is there support?

Coeliac UK

Helpline: 0333 332 2033
Email: via website

The Organisation is a Registered Charity in England and Wales No. 1048167. It provides information and support to people in the UK with coeliac disease and dermatitis herpetiformis. 

Group details last updated January 2016.

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