Victims of the hidden disease

Last updated at 10:47 20 May 2004

Thousands of Britons could be unaware they have an intolerance to gluten found in wheat, barley and rye products because of under-diagnosis, campaigners said today.

Coeliac disease, which can lead to serious complications such as osteoporosis, anaemia and infertility if undetected, is estimated to affect up to 750,000 people in the UK.

But campaigners Coeliac UK said fewer than 250,000 people had so far been diagnosed and one in 100 Britons may be unaware they were at risk from gluten intolerance.

To mark Coeliac Awareness Day today they urged the public to be aware of the condition and see their GP if they have concerns.

Symptoms include tiredness, anaemia, diarrhoea, weight loss and recurrent mouth ulcers, and in children the condition can stunt growth.

Sufferers must avoid gluten - which is found in products containing flour, such as biscuits and bread - in their diets.

Coeliac UK said people may be being mis-diagnosed or diagnosing themselves with irritable bowel syndrome or wheat allergy and putting themselves on wheat-free diets without further medical assistance and support.

Norma McGough, a dietician at Coeliac UK, said: "We are concerned about the number of people who think they have a wheat allergy or irritable bowel syndrome when they may well have coeliac disease which needs to be diagnosed properly and managed by a medical team."

The charity said that, at the current rate of diagnosis, it would take 20 years to double the number of people diagnosed with the disease to 500,000.

Dr Sohail Butt, of Coeliac UK's medical advisory committee, said: "GPs have a key role in improving the diagnosis and management of coeliac disease.

"Often patients with chronic diarrhoea, unexplained anaemia and presumed irritable bowel syndrome will see their GPs many times over several years before the difficult diagnosis of coeliac disease is made.

"Likewise many patients may put themselves on a wheat-free diet.

"However, this may only partially treat the condition and makes it more difficult for doctors to diagnose."

More information of coeliac disease is available by calling the charity's helpline on 0870 444 8804 or by visiting

No comments have so far been submitted. Why not be the first to send us your thoughts, or debate this issue live on our message boards.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now