What is coeliac disease?

Coeliac Disease Explained

Coeliac disease (pronounced see-liac, spelt celiac disease in other countries) is an autoimmune disease. Gluten, which is found in wheat, barley and rye triggers an immune reaction in people with coeliac disease. This means that eating gluten damages the lining of the small intestine. Other parts of the body may also be affected.


What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of coeliac disease (spelt celiac in America) vary from person to person and can range from very mild to severe.

Possible symptoms may include:

  • diarrhoea, excessive wind, and/or constipation
  • persistent or unexplained gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting
  • recurrent stomach pain, cramping or bloating
  • any combination of iron, vitamin B12 or folic acid deficiency
  • tiredness and/or headaches
  • weight loss (but not in all cases)
  • mouth ulcers
  • hair loss (alopecia)
  • skin rash (dermatitis herpetiformis (DH))
  • tooth enamel problems
  • osteoporosis
  • depression
  • infertility
  • repeated miscarriages
  • joint and/or bone pain
  • neurological (nerve) problems such as ataxia (poor muscle co-ordination) and neuropathy (numbness and tingling in the hands and feet).
green and red healthy food

Common confusion

Some symptoms may be mistaken as Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or wheat intolerance. Stress or getting older can also be a cause of confusion.

Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to be underweight or have lost weight to have coeliac disease. Most people are of normal weight or even overweight when they are diagnosed with coeliac disease.

Gluten Free Diet

By avoiding all gluten (some people also need to avoid oats), your gut can heal and your symptoms should improve.The gluten-free diet is the only treatment for coeliac disease.

On the gluten-free diet you can eat any naturally gluten-free foods, such as:

  • meat
  • fish
  • fruit and vegetables
  • rice
  • potatoes
  • lentils.

The time it takes for someone to feel better on a gluten-free diet varies. Many people feel better within a few days and usually symptoms like nausea, diarrhoea and bloating clear up within a few weeks.

Some symptoms may take longer to improve, or you may find one symptom gets better before another. The time it takes for the gut damage to heal completely varies from person to person and can take between six months and two years.

Following a gluten-free diet is a learning process, not only for you but also for your family and friends. Mistakes can happen whilst you’re following a gluten-free diet, especially if you have only recently been diagnosed.

If you have coeliac disease and eat gluten by mistake, you would usually start to have symptoms a few hours after eating it and the symptoms can last from a few hours to several days. However, the effects vary from person to person, and depend on how much gluten you’ve eaten, how sensitive you are and how long you have been on a gluten-free diet.

If you have coeliac disease, eating gluten damages your gut. If you make the occasional mistake and eat gluten by accident, it’s unlikely to cause lasting gut damage.

What to do if you have symptoms

  • If you have diarrhoea or you are vomiting, it’s important to keep yourself well hydrated by drinking lots of water.
  • Some people find that taking medication to treat constipation, diarrhoea or headaches can ease symptoms, but speak to your pharmacist or GP before you take medication.
  • The most important thing is to get back onto your gluten-free diet to try to prevent further symptoms.
  • If your symptoms are very severe or do not improve, speak to your GP.

Coeliac App

Managing your gluten-free diet while out and about can be a challenge as our increasingly busy lifestyles mean we’re doing more on the hop.

Coeliac UK have developed an app. It’s called Gluten-free on the Move and aims to help you manage every element of your gluten-free diet, whether it’s shopping for food or finding somewhere to eat out.

The app includes access to the Food and Drink Directory and you can scan items as you shop to see if they are suitable for your gluten-free diet.


Are you concerned about any of the points mentioned in this article or if you would like to know more about how nutritional therapy could support you with coeliac disease, please contact me on 07967 639347 or email emily@4wellpeople.co.uk. Nutritional therapy can support a number of health issues. 

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