Coeliac Disease: what is it and how is it treated?

What is coeliac disease?
 
Coeliac disease (or gluten intolerance) is a disease that affects the small intestine and is caused by gluten. Gluten is a storage protein found in cereals such as wheat, rye, barley and oats. People suffering from coeliac disease present a series of exhausting symptoms, but they can fully recover by strictly following a gluten-free diet for the rest of their lives.
 
What are the most common symptoms?
 
Classical symptoms of coeliac disease, when the patient consumes gluten, include diarrhoea, intestinal cramps, bloating and malnutrition, which causes, among other things, weight loss to adults, growth problems to children, anemia and osteoporosis. Moreover, coeliac disease is associated with a number of other diseases including liver disorders, skin rashes and sub-fertility.
 
Is it dangerous for the life of the person suffering from this condition?
 
Coeliac disease is not just an allergy, as in coeliac disease, gluten found in foods destroys the intestinal mucosa and, therefore, obstructs proper digestion and absorption of nutrients in the body. This leads to chronic malnutrition, with severe deficiency of calories and of essential nutrients, such as proteins, vitamins and minerals.
 
How frequent is coeliac disease?
 
In Europe it is estimated that 1% of the population suffers from the disease. In view of the fact that symptoms are varied and can be mild, such as lethargy, irritability and intestinal complaints, often several sufferers are unaware of their condition, because of absence of diagnosis. Therefore, it is quite possible that many Europeans suffer from coeliac disease without knowing it, because they have never been submitted to endoscopy and intestinal biopsy, which are the necessary tests for diagnosing the disease.
 
Can it be prevented?
 
It is not yet known why some people develop coeliac disease, but it seems that there must be some genetic background. Currently, the only recommendation refers to baby diet and involves avoiding foods that contain wheat for at least the first six months of a baby’s life. 
 
How is the disease diagnosed?
 
As mentioned above, there are many people suffering from coeliac disease without knowing it. For the disease to be diagnosed, special blood tests and small intestine biopsy are necessary.
 
Is there an Association for the Support of patients suffering from coeliac disease in Greece?
 
The Greek Coeliac Society is the official society of coeliac disease patients in Greece. This Society is an inexhaustible source of information for every aspect of the disease.
 
 
Is there a cure for coeliac disease?
 
When people suffering from coeliac disease follow a gluten-free diet, their intestinal mucosa is gradually reconstructed and its normal operation is reinstated. The results of a lifelong gluten-free diet can change the lives of these patients, as the body is cured and the symptoms disappear. Gluten is found in wheat, rye, barley and oats, which are ingredients used for the preparation of many daily foods such as bread, breakfast cereals, pasta, pizza, various pastries, cakes and biscuits. Rice, potatoes and corn do not contain gluten. Also, many special gluten-free products are now available in the market for people with coeliac disease. However, gluten is hidden in many more products, such as sausages, cured meats, ready-made soups and sauces. For this reason, patients should be particularly cautious when consuming a product, and it is important that they refer to the ingredients of the product before consuming it.
 
NIKAS gives anyone who follows a gluten-free diet the chance to enjoy gluten-free cured meat products: the gluten-free ΝΙΚΑS Viveur range is available at the delicatessen counter. Also in super-markets, the self-service NIKAS green packages are gluten-free.
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