Living With Coeliac Disease and Being Gluten Free

Coeliac Disease Symptoms in Children and Adults

Coeliac Symptoms

Coeliac disease is a medical condition where the intestine reacts negatively to a type of protein contained in gluten. Gluten is a substance found in bread, barley, wheat, cereals, and even oats. If you have this condition, eating foods containing gluten triggers the immune system in your gut. Over time, the reaction creates inflammation that destroys the lining of your small intestine and blocks the absorption of other nutrients.

The malabsorption and inflammation in the intestine can lead to weight loss, bloating, and diarrhoea. Gradually, the nervous system, brain, and other body organs will be affected greatly and negatively. In children, malabsorption could affect the growth as well as the development. The inflamed intestinal tract can cause gastrointestinal discomfort and pain, especially after eating.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for coeliac disease. Nevertheless, the best way to avoid triggering coeliac disease symptoms is to follow a strict gluten-free diet. This can help control symptoms and improve intestinal healing.

Coeliac Disease Symptoms: General Indications

Coeliac disease symptoms can differ greatly by age. While the classic signs and symptoms of the disease are diarrhoea and weight loss, many people with it experience few or zero digestive discomfort. Only about one-third of individuals diagnosed with coeliac disease experience stomach pain, especially diarrhoea, and about half of them have lost pounds.

Twenty percent of individuals with the disease have constipation, and ten percent are overweight. Other coeliac disease symptoms and signs include:

  • Heartburn and acid reflux
  • Itchy and blistery skin rash or dermatitis herpetiformis
  • Headache and fatigue
  • Joint pain
  • Loss of bone density or osteoporosis
  • Softening of bone or osteomalacia
  • Damage to dental enamel
  • Decreased functioning of the spleen or hyposplenism
  • Nervous system injury that includes numbness and tingling sensation in the hands and feet.
  • Anaemia resulted from iron deficiency.

Coeliac Disease Symptoms in Children and Infants

Up to 75 percent of children with coeliac disease are obese or overweight. Signs and symptoms are experienced by 20 to 30 percent of young children with the disease, even though the exact signs and symptoms differ by age.

In babies, common indicators of coeliac disease include:

  • Failure to grow healthily
  • Weight loss
  • Stomach pain or discomfort
  • Swollen belly
  • Chronic diarrhoea

Other children may experience:

  • Short stature (height)
  • Constipation
  • Delayed puberty
  • Diarrhoea
  • Neurological symptoms
    • ADHD or Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
    • Headaches
    • Lack of muscular coordination
    • Learning disability

Coeliac Disease Symptoms in Adults

Adults usually have digestive problems, like diarrhoea. However, this only affects one-third of adults with coeliac disease. Miscarriages and infertility are also associated with the condition. Other coeliac disease symptoms include arthritis, depression or anxiety, mouth sores, iron deficiency, erratic menstrual periods, dermatitis herpetiformis, etc.

What is dermatitis herpetiformis?

Dermatitis herpetiformis is a skin rash accompanied by itchy blisters that stem from digestive gluten intolerance. The rash often occurs on the knees, torso, elbows, scalp and buttocks.

Dermatitis herpetiformis is associated with changes in the lining of the intestine, similar to that of coeliac disease, but it may not produce significant gastrointestinal tract symptoms. It can be treated with medications to control the rash and prevented by following a gluten-free diet.

Factors Triggering Symptoms

A number of factors may trigger the coeliac disease symptoms that a patient has.

The factors include:

  • How much damage the coeliac disease has done to the small intestine before it was diagnosed.
  • Age of patient when protein gluten was first introduced to the diet.
  • How long the person was breastfed.

Another factor is the amount of gluten the patient’s diet has. Common foods that contain gluten include wheat, rye, bread, and barley.

Again, some patients may not experience any symptoms at all, because their intestines can still absorb an adequate amount of nutrients to protect them from possible health complications. However, over a long period of time, the disease may affect the entire body greatly. It should be treated as early as possible to prevent possible long-term adverse effects, such as:

  • Liver disease
  • Malnutrition
  • Malabsorption
  • Cancers of the digestive tract (in rare cases)

When to consult a doctor?

You should see a doctor if you have diarrhoea or stomach pain that continues for more than a week. Consult your child’s doctor if he or she looks pale, is not thriving as expected, is irritable, or has a bloated stomach and smelly, bulky stools.

If you want to follow a strict gluten-free diet, your doctor can help you. Do not follow any home-made gluten-free diet without your doctor’s advice.

Coeliac disease is a genetic illness, so it runs in families. If someone in your family has the disease, ask your health care provider if you should be tested provided that you have yet to experience any symptoms. Also, inquire your doctor about testing if you or someone in your family has increased risks for developing coeliac disease, like Type 1 Diabetes.