Coeliac disease – what to look out for

Coeliac disease is a common illness where the body’s immune system attacks the gut after eating gluten containing foods. Gluten is a protein that is found in three types of grain: Wheat, barley, and rye. The condition affects 1% of the population. The risk is even higher if you have one or more family members affected – 10-20%. However, 70% of cases remain undiagnosed and Coeliac is being increasingly found in older patients – 25% of cases are diagnosed after the age of 60.

The reason why it can go undiagnosed is because the symptoms are highly variable, and some people have minimal or no symptoms.

The symptoms include:

• Diarrhoea

• Bloating

• Abdominal pain

• Weight loss

• Fatigue

• Poor concentration.

So, if your symptoms are very mild why would you worry about it? Studies have shown undiagnosed coeliac disease has been linked with many health problems, including easily broken bones, infertility, a low blood count, and certain cancers.

Luckily, making the diagnosis is usually straightforward. The first step is a blood test for coeliac antibodies. If these come back positive, confirmation is recommended in adult patients with a biopsy from your small intestine. This is done via a Gastroscopy (a quick, minimally invasive camera test where a small tube is inserted through the mouth, gullet, stomach and first part of the small bowel). Importantly, patients need to keep eating gluten to get an accurate blood test and biopsy result.

Treatment is also easy – a gluten free diet. The vast majority of patients get improvement in symptoms a few weeks to months after starting a gluten free diet, and more than 90% have achieved complete gut healing within a few years. Being seen by a dietitian is crucial as many foods that you would not suspect contain gluten, and accidental exposure is very common. A session with a dietitian can greatly reduce the chance of this happening. 

At Waitemata Endoscopy, we accept referrals from GP’s, other specialists, and self-referrals. We can offer appointments within 7 days by matching you with the availability of our experienced specialists and can guide you through the process of diagnosis and treatment of Coeliac disease, including linking you with our dietitian.

So, if you are concerned you may have Coeliac disease, have a chat to your GP or come and see us.  To meet the team at Waitemata Endoscopy, visit

Dr Carl Freyer (BSc, MBBS, FRACP)

Gastroenterologist and Endoscopist