Coeliac disease and gluten sensitivity – what do they mean?
In Switzerland, around one per cent of the population is affected by coeliac disease, an intolerance to gluten. With coeliac disease, it is usually possible to lead a symptom-free life as long as a gluten-free diet is followed. There are also people who do not tolerate gluten but who do not have coeliac disease. In this case, it is referred to as gluten sensitivity.
What is coeliac disease?
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which even small amounts of gluten can damage the lining of the small intestine and cause numerous symptoms. Intolerance to gluten can occur during the first years of life but can also appear in adulthood. But what is meant by gluten? Gluten is a collective term for grain proteins found in numerous types of grain.
Untreated coeliac disease can lead to nutrient deficiency, weight loss, diarrhoea, bloating, nausea, pale skin and psychological changes. The symptoms and characteristics of coeliac disease can vary greatly from one individual to another and also depend on age.
How is coeliac disease diagnosed?
If coeliac disease is suspected, your doctor can send a blood sample to a specialist laboratory. If the results are positive, a gastrologist usually carries out an examination to confirm the diagnosis. It is important that any change to a gluten-free diet is only made after a definite diagnosis has been made by a specialist.
You should not try a gluten-free diet without a definitive diagnosis of coeliac disease. This is because the body must regularly come into contact with foods containing gluten for coeliac disease to be detected.
The right diet for coeliac disease
Treatment of coeliac disease is a strict, gluten-free diet. By completely avoiding products containing gluten, the diseased small intestine mucous membrane usually recovers in just a few weeks. It is important to remain consistent, as even small traces of foods containing gluten can lead to re-inflammation of the mucous membrane of the small intestine.
Bread and pasta are easily recognized as containing gluten. However, gluten may also be lurking in other foods where you would not expect to find it. These include, for example, seasonings, sauces and soups, or potato products such as French fries and croquettes. Always read the list of ingredients for all products. If a product consists of ingredients containing gluten, these are always indicated and highlighted in the list of ingredients.
The following grains contain gluten:
Triticale (wheat and rye hybrid)
What is the difference between coeliac disease and gluten sensitivity?
Symptoms of gluten sensitivity are similar to those of coeliac disease. Even with a sensitivity, gluten or grain products containing gluten can lead to gastrointestinal problems. However, if it is neither coeliac disease nor a wheat allergy, it is referred to as gluten sensitivity. While the symptoms are similar to those of coeliac disease, the small intestine is not damaged by foods containing gluten.
There are currently no tests available to diagnose gluten sensitivity. But if symptoms disappear quickly on a gluten-free diet, it can be assumed an individual has gluten sensitivity. It is important, though, that both coeliac disease and a wheat allergy are ruled out first.