It's Coeliac Awareness Week from today until 17th May 2015. It seems to me that people's general understanding of gluten, the types of food that it can often appear in and the gluten free diet is improving, however awareness of symptoms and diagnosis still requires help. Coeliac UK has pointed out that approximately 1% of the UK population has Coeliac disease. However, only 24% of those with the condition are medically diagnosed, which means that there are half a million people in the UK who have not been diagnosed as Coeliac but are living with the condition, with all the longterm health risks that may bring.
It's for that reason that Coeliac UK are currently promoting a new two year awareness campaign, focusing on symptoms and diagnosis. They are hoping to reduce the length of time it can take to get a diagnosis (currently an average of 13 years) and reduce misdiagnosis of IBS by 50%. A focus on awareness of symptoms is crucial not just for sufferers themselves but for medical professionals as well.
I was relatively lucky in that my own symptoms seemed to develop very strongly very quickly and I was diagnosed rapidly.
I was diagnosed Coeliac in August 2011. It did come as a bit of a shock. For a few months leading up to diagnosis, eating bread made me feel nauseous, tired and (progressively) dreadfully ill. It all started during a very busy time in my life though - I was working and studying hard on a law course and put all the strange symptoms I was having down to just being tired and overworked. They were odd symptoms too, especially to have at the same time - aches, pains, tiredness, nausea, horribly painful mouth ulcers, even a strange tingling in my fingers. I seemed to be unwell all the time, had a horrible episode of norovirus that lasted longer than it should have done... I lost weight and felt frustratingly delicate.
But the nausea was only dramatically obvious after eating bread, and even after I finally went to the doctor about it (after I threw up a delicious afternoon tea a few hours later) and he scheduled a blood test to test for Coeliac disease, I'd convinced myself it wasn't that - I wasn't showing any obvious symptoms after eating pasta or couscous or other gluten-filled products. The call from the surgery asking me to come in for an appointment rather than waiting for me to call them was the first clue though! The blood test revealed a clear diagnosis of Coeliac disease but you need to then have an endoscopy to confirm the diagnosis, as a blood test is not always conclusive. The biopsy, on the other hand, enables a sample of the gut to be taken and clearly reveals damage to the lining...which was very damaged in my case. It's very important to keep eating gluten before having the endoscopy, no matter how horrible it's making you feel, as cutting it out beforehand may adversely affect the biopsy results.
If you've recently been diagnosed Coeliac or think you may have Coeliac disease, please don't panic. It can be treated without medication, just by completely cutting gluten out of your diet. Once gluten has been removed from your diet, you will start to feel so much better and the lining of your gut will gradually begin to heal too. There are so many tasty gluten free foods available now and the level of awareness is only improving and can only improve further with Coeliac UK's new campaign - take control of your symptoms and you will feel so much better.
If you've been experiencing any strange symptoms recently, perhaps not just after eating foods containing gluten, have a look at the link to Coeliac UK's campaign here; you can check your symptoms, find out more about a gluten free diet and lifestyle, and discover links to the various companies which are participating in this year's Awareness Week. There's a wonderfully welcoming active online community too - blogging and on Twitter - so you'll never feel alone throughout this journey. It's time to start feeling better!