Coeliac disease is a serious autoimmune condition that can lead to infertility, osteoporosis and small bowel cancer if left untreated.
But alarming new research reveals that 50% of GPs find coeliac disease difficult to diagnose and almost 90% believe that it is often overlooked when investigating infertility. In fact, it takes an average of 13 years to reach a proper diagnosis.
Coeliac disease is caused by intolerance to the protein gluten found in wheat, barley and rye. There is no cure or medication and treatment is a strict gluten-free diet for life.
Although around 1 in 100 people in the UK have the disease, NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) says that just 10-15% of those who have the condition have a proper diagnosis.
Sarah Sleet, Chief Executive of Coeliac UK said: “The Charity is seeing around 1200 new Members join every month but it is currently estimated there are around half a million people in the UK who are undiagnosed. Doctors should be following NICE guidelines but it seems some are too quick to diagnose people with IBS rather than arrange for a coeliac blood test. According to recent research almost 25% of coeliac patients had previously been told they had IBS or were treated for it before they were diagnosed with coeliac disease. The sooner someone is diagnosed and begins a strict gluten-free diet, their gut will begin to heal and the risk of further complications will reduce. However, it is essential to keep eating gluten until the blood test and biopsy are completed otherwise the results could give a false negative.”
And according to Dr Shahzadi Saleem, an Oxford GP who took part in the survey, “It is one of the most misdiagnosed diseases in the UK and easily confused with other less dangerous conditions”
“We want people who assume they have a wheat intolerance or Irritable Bowel Syndrome to ask their doctor for a blood test in case they actually have the more serious coeliac disease,” Dr Saleem adds. “If you have this condition you need to know as early as possible.”
Proper diagnosis, according to national guidelines, is a 3 step process:
- Patients discuss symptoms with their GP
- GP administers a simple blood test which is sent to a lab for analysis
- If blood test is positive, GP refers patient to a gastroenterologist for an endoscopy
Symptoms vary between individuals and can include bloating, abdominal pain, nausea, constipation, diarrhoea, wind, fatigue, anaemia, headaches, mouth ulcers, recurrent miscarriage, weight loss, skin problems, joint pain, depression and nerve problems.
“If you suspect you might have the condition, book an appointment with your GP as soon as you can and ask them to carry out a blood test for coeliac disease,” says Dr Saleem.
Notes to Editors:
For more information please contact Alexis Kieft firstname.lastname@example.org / 0207 702 6544 or Pauline Kent email@example.com / 07809 195871
Survey of 100 GPs from across the UK was conducted in February 2013. For full survey please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information regarding Coeliac UK and coeliac disease visit www.coeliac.org.uk