A recent study looked at the diagnosis rates for coeliac disease in the UK. It found a significant rise in clinical diagnoses between 2011 and 2015. However, it is still suspected that in excess of 500,000 people in the UK may be living with the disease but remain undiagnosed.
What is coeliac disease?
Coeliac disease (CD) is an autoimmune condition where the body reacts badly to gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It can cause a range of symptoms such as gastrointestinal problems, cramping, bloating, mouth ulcers, anaemia and even neurological problems.
Not everyone with the disease experiences all of these symptoms, and the effects of the condition can vary greatly from person-to-person.
When a patient receives a diagnosis of coeliac disease they will be advised to adopt a strict gluten-free diet for the rest of their life.
How was the study carried out?
Coeliac UK is the largest independent charity for the condition and they commissioned the research to be carried out by the University of Nottingham.
The study looked at patient records where a clinical diagnosis was given of coeliac disease and/or dermatitis herpetiformis (a chronic skin condition that causes blistering of the skin and is closely linked to CD) between 2011 and 2015.
What does the research tell us?
This research showed that the number of people receiving a diagnosis for coeliac disease rose by a quarter between 2011 and 2015.
However, there is still a significant portion of people are thought to be living with the condition but are undiagnosed.
In the UK it is estimated that 1 in 100 people have coeliac disease. Applying the data from the study to this figure suggests that there are still over half a million people living with the condition who have not received a diagnosis.
If the condition is left undiagnosed it can lead to serious health complications including osteoporosis, fertility problems and, in rare cases, small bowel cancer.
How long does it take for a coeliac diagnosis to be given?
It is estimated that it takes 13 years for a coeliac diagnosis to be given. The data also suggests that 25 percent of coeliac patients are diagnosed with IBS initially before being given the diagnosis of CD.
What needs to be done to help diagnosis rates?
The data shows that diagnosis of coeliac disease are on the rise but Coeliac UK says that the rate of diagnosis has been slowing down. Therefore it would seem that more could be done in order to help those living with the condition to receive a prompt diagnosis.
Sarah Sleet, chief executive of Coeliac UK said: ‘The blood test for coeliac disease is relatively quick and cheap and we urge anyone that has ongoing symptoms to visit their GP and request to be screened for coeliac disease.’
Coeliac UK has also highlighted the current NICE guidelines that recommend patients presenting with IBS symptoms should also be screened for coeliac disease.
If you think you may be experiencing symptoms of coeliac disease, Coeliac UK have developed a tool to help you determine whether you should see a doctor for a blood test.
But in any case, if you are experiencing persistent bloating or any other gut-related symptoms, it's a good idea to speak to your GP.