ABDOMINAL conditions are frequently ignored, perhaps due to embarrassment, or the assumption that those bowel habits are normal for the individual.

For some with Coeliac disease, symptoms may be mild, absent, or not gut related. However, getting a diagnosis is vital firstly to relieve any suffering, and secondly to reduce the chance of long-term complications.

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition, rather than a food intolerance or allergy. Gluten is a protein, found in barley, rye and wheat. In those with coeliac disease, when gluten is eaten, the body forms antibodies. Unfortunately, these antibodies attack the person’s own tissues, in this case the lining of the small bowel.

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Although coeliac disease is usually diagnosed in those over 40, it can occur at any age. Symptoms in adults may include abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhoea.

Rarely coeliac disease may cause neurological issues such as altered gait, clumsiness, cognitive difficulties and headaches. Some may have no symptoms at all.

Around 1 in 100 are affected by coeliac disease but there are several thousand with the condition who remain undiagnosed. The average time from symptoms to diagnosis in the UK is 13 years.

Coeliac disease is more likely in those with a first degree relative, your risk increasing to 1 in 10. It is commoner in those with other autoimmune diseases, including those affecting the thyroid and type 1 diabetes. Those with Down’s and Turner’s syndromes are at greater risk and routine screening is recommended for these individuals.

There is no cure for coeliac disease other than lifelong total exclusion of gluten from the diet. While this may seem daunting at first, there are specialist dieticians and excellent local and national support groups who will assist you all the way. Some gluten free products are available on prescription.

Labelling of gluten free products has improved massively. Look for the ear of corn with a line through it on any food packaging. Many processed foods will have gluten in them or be made in a factory that uses gluten. Perhaps the best advice is to cook from scratch if feasible.

There is no safe amount of gluten for anyone diagnosed with coeliac disease. Even small amounts can cause a return of symptoms and increase the risk of complications. These include nutritional deficiencies, developing other autoimmune conditions, coronary heart disease, and a type of small bowel cancer known as lymphoma.

However, if a strict gluten free diet is adhered to, the risk of these should be no more than for anyone without the condition, with no reduction in life expectancy.