Coeliac disease is a permanent, autoimmune disorder caused by an intolerance to gluten which is found in wheat, barley, oats and rye. This intolerance to gluten causes the body to produce antibodies which damage the lining of the small bowel and make it impossible for the body to absorb vitamins, minerals and other nutrients from food. Both genetic and environmental factors play important roles in coeliac disease and coeliac disease is hereditary.


There are no specific symptoms of coeliac disease. Listed below are some of the symptoms which may occur alone or in combination:

Most Common in Adults:

  • Diarrhoea – This may begin at any age and is often present for years prior to diagnosis. It may first appear after other illnesses (e.g. gastroenteritis) or abdominal operations.
  • Fatigue, weakness and lethargy
  • Anaemia – iron or folic acid deficiency are the most common. The anaemia will either not respond to treatment or will recur after treatment until the correct diagnosis is made and a gluten free diet is begun.
  • Weight loss
  • Constipation – some are more likely to experience constipation rather than diarrhoea.
  • Flatulence and abdominal distension
  • Cramping and bloating.
  • Nausea and vomiting

Less Common in Adults

  • Easy bruising of the skin
  • Ulcerations and/or swelling of mouth and tongue
  • Miscarriages and infertility
  • Low blood calcium levels with muscle spasms
  • B12, A, D, E and K vitamin deficiency
  • Skin rashes such as Dermatitis Herpetiformis
  • Altered mental alertness.
  • Bone and joint pains

Common in Children

Symptoms do not occur until gluten is introduced into an infant diet – later onset is also possible.

  • Large, bulky, foul stools
  • Diarrhoea or constipation
  • Poor weight gain
  • Weight loss in older children
  • Chronic anaemia
  • Retarded growth
  • Abdominal distension, pain and flatulence
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Irritability


Coeliac disease is treated by a lifelong gluten free diet. By specifically removing the cause of the disease, this treatment allows all abnormalities, including the lining of the small bowel to recover completely. As long as the diet is adhered to strictly, no problems should occur.  An initial few weeks on a gluten free diet which also has a low cow’s milk content (to lower the lactose sugar intake) may be warranted as this will allow the bowel lining to recover and replace its normal quantity of the enzyme lactase, which splits or digests lactose sugar prior to absorption. In a small number of coeliacs the enzyme lactase may slowly recover and the need for low or no cow’s milk content in the diet may persist for some time.

This information is for guidance only and should not replace advice given by your medical professional