What are the signs of coeliac disease?

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects the small intestine and is triggered by the consumption of gluten. It is important to know that you can only have coeliac disease when you have a particular genetic profile and many people think they have coeliac disease or that they should stop eating gluten when that isn’t the case.


Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye and causes an immune response in individuals with coeliac disease, damaging the lining of the small intestine and impairing nutrient absorption. With an estimated prevalence of 1% worldwide, coeliac disease is more common than previously thought. 

Symptoms of coeliac disease

It isn’t always obvious that you have coeliac disease as the symptoms can be quite vague and confused with other conditions. The symptoms include:

  • bloating
  • diarrhoea
  • constipation
  • gas
  • lactose intolerance due to damage to the small intestine
  • loose, greasy, bulky, and bad-smelling stools
  • nausea or vomiting
  • pain in the abdomen
  • even unexplained iron deficiency

The importance of diagnosis

This is why obtaining an accurate diagnosis of coeliac disease is of utmost importance. Many individuals with coeliac disease remain undiagnosed or misdiagnosed for years, leading to ongoing health issues and a decreased quality of life – this is because symptoms like diarrhoea, iron deficiency or abdominal pain are put down to other things. 

Early diagnosis allows for timely intervention and the adoption of a gluten-free diet, which can help prevent long-term complications associated with the disease, such as malnutrition, osteoporosis and even infertility.

Dietary changes

The cornerstone of coeliac disease management is a strict gluten-free diet. This sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? But as I know from my clinical experience it isn’t always the case.

Removing all sources of gluten from the diet is essential for healing intestinal damage and alleviating symptoms. This means avoiding not only obvious sources like bread, pasta, and baked goods but also hidden sources such as sauces, soups, and processed foods containing gluten derivatives. 

It is important that you become familiar with food labels and seek out certified gluten-free products. Consulting with a gut health-focused nutritional therapist who specialises in coeliac disease can provide invaluable guidance and support during the dietary transition.

Luckily, many foods are naturally gluten-free and the Gluten Free Society website has some good recipe ideas, which can be adapted if you do not eat dairy or are vegan, for example. 

Non-responsive to gluten-free diet

If you are doing the above and still have symptoms or you have raised antibodies, despite adopting a gluten-free diet, there are several reasons why this might occur:

  • Inadequate adherence to the gluten-free diet: Strict adherence to a gluten-free diet is challenging, as even small amounts of gluten can trigger a response in susceptible individuals. Accidental gluten exposure, cross-contamination, or hidden gluten sources can impede healing and symptom resolution that you might not be aware of.
  • Co-existing conditions: you may also have another condition with similar symptoms. Additionally, coeliac disease can coexist with other autoimmune disorders, such as thyroid disease, which may complicate symptom management. Testing for other autoimmune conditions is something I can arrange for my clients.
  • Refractory coeliac disease: In rare cases, you might experience refractory coeliac disease, where the intestinal damage persists despite adherence to a strict gluten-free diet. 

It can also take longer for your intestinal tract to heal than you think, so it is especially important to make the right dietary changes, and if you are not responding to a gluten-free diet, to figure out why.

To find out more about how I can help you, please schedule a complimentary call.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London SW15 & W1H
Written by Melody Mackeown, mBANT, CNHC, BSEM | Nutritional Therapist and Health Coach
London SW15 & W1H

Melody Mackeown is a Nutritional Therapist who specialises in gut disorders.

If you are looking to work with an expert who can help you figure out the best foods for you without the guesswork or faddy diets you are in the right place. Together, we can help figure out the root cause of your digestive problems and find effective solutions.

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