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What is coeliac disease

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What is coeliac disease

Coeliac disease Coeliac disease (257 KB)

Coeliac disease is a permanent, autoimmune disorder caused by an intolerance to gluten which is found in wheat, barley, oats and rye. This intolerance to gluten causes the body to produce antibodies which damage the lining of the small bowel and make it impossible for the body to absorb vitamins, minerals and other nutrients from food. Both genetic and environmental factors play important roles in coeliac disease and coeliac disease is hereditary.

In 2015, it is estimated that 60,000 to 70,000 of kiwis have coeliac disease (1 in 70), however up to 80% of those are unaware they have the condition.


There are no specific symptoms of coeliac disease. Listed below are some of the symptoms which may occur alone or in combination: 

Most Common in Adults:

Less Common in Adults Common in Children

Symptoms do not occur until gluten is introduced into an infant diet – later onset is also possible.


Coeliac disease is treated by a lifelong gluten free diet. By specifically removing the cause of the disease, this treatment allows all abnormalities, including the lining of the small bowel to recover completely. As long as the diet is adhered to strictly, no problems should occur.  An initial few weeks on a gluten free diet which also has a low cow’s milk content (to lower the lactose sugar intake) may be warranted as this will allow the bowel lining to recover and replace its normal quantity of the enzyme lactase, which splits or digests lactose sugar prior to absorption. In a small number of coeliacs the enzyme lactase may slowly recover and the need for low or no cow’s milk content in the diet may persist for some time.

This information is for guidance only and should not replace advice given by your medical professional