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Coeliac disease is a common digestive condition where a person has an adverse reaction to gluten.

Gluten is found primarily in wheat, but also in rye, barley, and to a lesser extent, oats.

It makes up the protein part of these grains, nourishing the plant embryos during germination.

It affects the elasticity of dough, so is used to make baked wheat products more or less chewy.

It is an autoimmune condition, where the immune system – the body’s defence against infection – mistakenly attacks healthy tissue.

For sufferers, eating food containing gluten can trigger a range of painful symptoms including:

  • diarrhoea
  • bloating and flatulence
  • abdominal pain
  • weight loss
  • feeling tired all the time, resulting from malnutrition
  • children not growing at expected rates

Coeliac disease is not an allergy, nor an intolerance.

The immune system mistakes substances found inside gluten as a threat to the body, and attacks them.

This damages the surface of the small bowel, disrupting the body’s ability to absorb nutrients in food.

Scientists still do not know exactly what it is that causes the body to act in this way, but a person’s genetic make up and the environment appear to play a part.

There is no cure for coeliac disease, but following a gluten-free diet can help control symptoms and prevent the long-term consequences of the disease.

Even for sufferers whose symptoms are mild, or non-existant, a gluten-free diet is advised, because continuing to eat gluten can cause serious long-term problems.

Complications include osteoporosis, and iron deficiency anaemia.

Less common and even more serious complications include some cancers, include bowel cancer.

Gluten is found in beer, breads, pasta, cakes and pies. It is also found in cereals, chips, croutons, cookies and processed meats. It can be found in salad dressings, sauces such as soy sauce and soup or soup bases.

Source: NHS Choices