Coeliac disease, also spelled celiac disease, and called celiac sprue, is an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine that occurs in genetically predisposed people of all ages from middle infancy onward. Symptoms include pain and discomfort in the digestive tract, chronic constipation and diarrhoea, failure to thrive (in children), anaemia and fatigue, but these may be absent, and symptoms in other organ systems have been described.
People exposed to wheat, barley, or rye before the gut barrier has fully developed (within the first three months after birth) had five times the risk of developing coeliac disease relative to those exposed four to six months after birth. Those exposed even later than six months after birth were found to have only a slightly increased risk relative to those exposed at four to six months after birth
At present, the only effective treatment is a lifelong gluten-free diet. No medication exists that will prevent damage or prevent the body from attacking the gut when gluten is present. Strict adherence to the diet allows the intestines to heal, leading to resolution of all symptoms in most cases and, depending on how soon the diet is begun, can also eliminate the heightened risk of osteoporosis and intestinal cancer and in some cases sterility. The diet can be cumbersome; failure to comply with the diet may cause relapse.
The coeliac condition is a common genetic condition in Europe. Throughout Europe statistics show a high incidence of undiagnosed Coeliac Disease. Ireland is said to have 1 in 122. The European average is 1 in 100.