GPs urged to be alert for coeliac disease

Many cases of coeliac disease are missed by doctors because it is more common than previously thought has a wide range of possible symptoms.

GPs have been urged to be alert for coeliac disease following a study that shows most patients suffer for more than three years before diagnosis.

The main problem is the illness is far more common than most GPs were taught and it has a wide range of non-specific symptoms.

This means GPs often overlook it when trying to diagnose patients, who might be iron deficient or complain of anything from lethargy to stomach pain and bloating.

The disease makes people unable to tolerate gluten and can severely damage the digestive system.

Long-term complications can include infertility, osteoporosis, lymphoma and liver disease, according to Coeliac Australia, which has released the results of a national survey of 2560 members.

Eight out of 10 report an improved quality of life after diagnosis, which requires a blood test and a bowel biopsy.

However, 56 per cent experienced symptoms for at least three years before being diagnosed.

Three quarters say their symptoms significantly disrupted their normal routine and just under a third had to take sick leave, according to the survey results released on Thursday to mark coeliac awareness week.

There's not enough testing, says Coeliac Australia technical officer Penny Dellsperger.

"There are particularly low rates of detection in men. But it is heartening that once someone is diagnosed their quality of life improves and their risks of long-term health problems diminish."

The organisation's Dr Jason Tye-Din said the disease affected one in 70 Australians.

"It has been off the radar of doctors because it was thought to be rare," said Dr Tye-Din, a researcher at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and chair of Coeliac Australia's medical advisory committee.

He cautioned people against experimenting with a gluten-free diet before being tested.

"If they have been avoiding gluten the blood test will not be reliable," he says.

"Don't go mucking about with your diet before being tested. Celiac disease is not a fad condition.

"It is not a good idea for people to self diagnose. People who do that often don't follow the diet properly.

"The treatment is a strict life-long gluten-free diet. That's essential to allow the bowel to heal up."

Source AAP

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