Doctor shares five signs of 'silent coeliac disease' - including infertility and skin rash

Mature woman alone at home sick, holding hands to side of stomach having severe spasm lying on sofa in living room.
This disease can be seriously debilitating -Credit:Getty

A doctor has shared five red flag signs of a 'secret' coeliac disease that can be debilitating on the body and mind.

Most people are familiar with coeliac disease and its association with gluten consumption. The most common symptoms, such as bloating, diarrhoea, stomach pain and fatigue, are widely recognised.

However, this Coeliac Awareness Month, medical professionals are drawing attention to some of the less obvious signs of the condition, which could result in a diagnosis of 'silent coeliac'.

Research indicates that 75 per cent of Brits with coeliac disease are unaware they have it, and a third of those who do have the disease experience no symptoms at all.

So, what is coeliac disease?

Dr Alasdair Scott, a gut health expert at Selph, explains: "Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disorder where something triggers your body to launch an immune response against itself. In the case of coeliac disease, that trigger is gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye.

"Gluten is harmless for most people, who can consume it without any problems. However, for about 1-in-100 individuals, gluten prompts the immune system to attack the lining of the small intestine, causing inflammation.

"Coeliac disease can affect anyone at any age, but it's most commonly diagnosed between the ages of 30 and 50. It affects both genders, but women are more likely to be diagnosed with coeliac disease than men. If a family member has the disease, you're also more likely to have it.

"Approximately two thirds of individuals with coeliac disease experience common symptoms. These include diarrhoea, weight loss, stomach pain, bloating and flatulence, fatty floating stools, and tiredness.

"However, even though two thirds of people with the disease experience symptoms, this still leaves a significant number of people who do not. This is referred to as 'silent coeliac disease'."

What exactly is 'silent coeliac disease' and how can you identify it?

Stomach pain.
There are signs to keep an eye out for -Credit:Getty

Dr Scott elaborates: "Silent coeliac disease can be difficult to detect because, by its very nature, you have none of the typical coeliac symptoms. However, there are often more subtle signs that could suggest coeliac disease."

To assist Brits in identifying the signs of 'silent coeliac disease', Dr Scott provides five key indicators to watch out for:

1. Anaemia (low iron)

The expert said: "Coeliac disease impacts iron absorption and it's not uncommon for iron deficiency anaemia to be the only sign of an issue in people with coeliac disease. Signs of anaemia include being extremely pale in the skin, having a constant, unexplained lack of energy and general feelings of weakness in the body."

2. Low bone density

Dr Scott said: "Coeliac disease affects the absorption of vitamin D and calcium, both of which are essential for bone health. Indications of a low bone density include back pain, which could be due to a broken or collapsed bone in the spine, a stooped posture, or a bone that breaks much more easily than expected."

3. Tingling and numbness

The expert added: "The disease can also damage nerve fibres causing abnormalities in sensation or pins and needles. This mainly affects the arms and legs, so if you feel an unusual tingly sensation, it's best to get this checked out."

4. Infertility

The doctor also said: "Many women with coeliac disease have a history of infertility. In a study of women being investigated for infertility, 3% were found to have coeliac disease. Although there are many reasons infertility can happen, it's a good idea to test for coeliac disease if you are struggling to conceive."

5. Skin rash

Scratching chest.
Coeliac disease can cause a skin rash on your body -Credit:Getty

Dr Scott also noted: "About 1-in-10 people with coeliac disease get an itchy, bumpy skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis. These small, clustered papules and vesicles usually erupt on the elbows, knees, buttocks, back or scalp. They can also sometimes appear on the face and groin."

The doctor continued to say: "You might be left wondering if you have coeliac disease or not. After all, those who do have coeliac symptoms mostly struggle with diarrhoea, stomach pain and bloating.

"That's because irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) causes exactly the same symptoms. In fact, 36% of people with coeliac disease have been misdiagnosed with IBS before their coeliac diagnosis."

How can you find out if you have coeliac disease?

The bottom line is that if you want to know if you have coeliac disease, you need to take a coeliac disease blood test and you need to take one sooner rather than later.

Dr Scott adds: "If this blood test is negative and you've had gluten in your diet in the weeks before testing, you can be confident that you don't have coeliac disease. On the other hand, if your antibody level is raised, it's very likely that you have coeliac disease.

"If you do have coeliac disease, the main treatment is to go on a gluten-free diet. This means cutting out any foods containing wheat, barley or rye. This includes bread, pasta, cakes and even beer. The good news is that following a gluten-free diet will allow your gut to heal completely and you should have no symptoms or complications from coeliac disease."

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