Coeliac home tests can be life-changing

PUBLISHED: 01:01 17 January 2008 | UPDATED: 08:46 10 June 2010

Those who are unaware they are affected can suffer from an endless list of symptoms, including bloating, diarrhoea, nausea, tiredness, constipation, headaches, weight loss, hair loss, skin problems, depression, infertility, and joint and bone pain for man

Those who are unaware they are affected can suffer from an endless list of symptoms, including bloating, diarrhoea, nausea, tiredness, constipation, headaches, weight loss, hair loss, skin problems, depression, infertility, and joint and bone pain for many years before they are diagnosed.The disease is caused by an intolerance to gluten - a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and oats and because of the variety of ways it can manifest itself, it is often not discovered promptly.Most people are diagnosed in their adult years and, as the disease can be mistaken for countless other conditions, and the only 100 per cent sure-fire way to detect it is an endoscopy, some sufferers have waited for up to 13 years between their initial visit to their doctor and the correct diagnosis.The disease is a life-long condition and ultimately affects the entire body because it causes malnutrition. For sufferers, the intake of gluten causes an inflammatory response in the small intestine, which in turn damages the tissues and results in impaired ability to absorb nutrients from food.The inflammation and malabsorption create wide-ranging problems in many systems of the body leading to several of the symptoms above.The exact cause is not clearly understood but it is known that the condition is hereditary.Sufferers are born with the genes which can be triggered at any time.Living with coeliac disease means a life without wheat, rye, barley, or oats - hence treatment means a lifestyle change and a switch to a gluten-free diet.Sufferers can be surprised at how complicated it is eliminating offending foods from their diet, but must stick to plans laid out by doctors and remember that the gut has been damaged by taking in gluten often and for a long time, and so recovery may take time, in some cases up to two years.While some sufferers can eat potatoes, chips are out - because they can be contaminated with gluten from the batter on the fish, if they are fried in the same oil.Some brands of baked beans may be OK but not others. Eating out can be almost impossible and, if you want to travel, it may mean an additional suitcase stocked with a supply of gluten-free ingredients to take with you.But awareness of the disease is rising and EU Regulations mean any packaged food that contains gluten will have to specify this on the pack, while some supermarkets now have dedicated gluten-free sections. The challenge to change one's diet may seem an arduous one but, once coeliacs get to grips with what they can and cannot eat, their energy levels usually soar and their quality of life improves above what they have become accustomed to while being weighed down by the disease.Because it can be difficult for a doctor to diagnose the problem, home tests are becoming increasingly important in the fight to find the condition.They can quickly eliminate or confirm traces of a specific disease.Tom MacDonald, professor of immunology at Bart's and the London University medical schools, supports home test kits as a valid method of testing for the disease.He said: "Home tests are useful because GPs sometimes fail to diagnose coeliac properly and the longer it is left untreated the worse it gets."If you suspect a problem, this is a good way to test yourself, though see your GP to confirm it."Coeliac disease is a condition which can be cured with a gluten-free diet, so a person with a positive result can then take immediate action."In an independent trial, one home test kit proved to be 96 per cent accurate, compared with hospital-based tests.I put the Biocard Coeliac Test kit through its paces.It is designed to be taken at home and analyses a drop of blood for the presence of substances called tissue transglutaminase antibodies.Within 10 minutes I was greeted with the news that I am not a sufferer.However, Neil Dorman, a 44-year-old carpenter is.After beginning to feel lethargic and depressed he consulted his GP.It took doctors six months to diagnose his condition.A bowel specialist found that the villi - responsible for absorption of food, in Neil's lower intestine - had been killed off by an accumulation of gluten intake over a number of years, which had reduced the nourishment he would absorb from food.The damage left Neil unable to absorb calcium efficiently and his deficiency now means he must take daily supplements to make up for years of missing out.He said: "Looking back to my childhood, I see the tell-tale, initial signs of my gluten-intolerance."If I ate pastry as a child I would have that same sort of feeling you get in your stomach when you're suffering from travel sickness."There was a very long time when I was a kid when I wouldn't eat brown bread, puddings or apple pie. "They would all make me feel ill."Neil now follows a completely gluten-free diet and his energy levels have been revitalised."I feel much better but, because I was oblivious to my gluten-intolerance for so long, I have been left with a chronic condition and have to have endoscopies every six months. "I urge other people to get tested, if they think they are at risk."If you think you may be a sufferer, the Biocard kit is available from Boots and online at www.xtriticamedical.com, priced £19.99.You should always confirm the results with your GP and you should never change your diet without speaking to your doctor.

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