Coeliac disease

An uncommon condition in which the lining of the small intestine is damaged due to hypersensitivity to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and some other cereals. Damage to the intestinal lining causes malabsorption, weight loss, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies that can lead to anaemia and skin problems. Faeces are bulky and foul-smelling. The disease tends to run in families and varies in severity. In babies, symptoms usually develop within 6 months of the introduction of gluten into the diet. The baby may become listless and irritable, develop vomiting and acute diarrhoea, and become dehydrated and seriously ill. In adults, symptoms such as tiredness, breathlessness, diarrhoea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and swelling of the legs may develop gradually over months. A chronic, distinctive rash called dermatitis herpetiformis may develop. Some people suffer damage to the intestinal lining but never develop symptoms. Diagnosis is made by blood, urine, and faeces tests and jejunal biopsies, in which small samples of the lining of the intestine are taken for examination. Coeliac disease is treated by a lifelong gluten-free diet, which usually relieves symptoms within weeks of introduction.


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