Coeliac disease is a hidden issue
Tens of thousands of Kiwis are suffering from coeliac disease unknowingly, new research suggests.
A recent Australian study found coeliac disease is 40 per cent more prevalent in women and 25 per cent more prevalent in men than previously thought.
Dr Bob Anderson, a New Zealand gastroenterologist involved in the research, said if a similar study was conducted in New Zealand, it would likely identify 65,000 Kiwis have the disease, yet 75 per cent have no idea about it.
Coeliac disease is a permanent, autoimmune disorder caused by an intolerance to gluten - a protein found in wheat, barley, oats and rye.
Gluten causes coeliac sufferers to produce antibodies that damage the lining of their small bowel and makes it impossible for them to absorb certain vitamins, minerals and other nutrients from food.
Thousands of new cases of coeliac disease go unnoticed each year because the symptoms and diagnosis of the disease are not clear cut, Coeliac New Zealand president Terry Hoskins said.
"Thousands of people go to their GP each year because they feel sick and tired. Being sick and tired are symptoms of so many conditions as well as of our ever-increasing, busy lifestyles," she said.
"However, if someone has been this way for a long time then they should ask their GP for further investigations to be done."
Today marks the start of New Zealand's coeliac awareness week which is targeted towards increasing the understanding of the disease among the public and the medical fraternity, Hoskins said.
Former Shortland Street actress Rachel Forman, 31, suffers from the disease and said discovering what was making her feel sick and tired for so long was a revelation.
For years, she suffered from a range of sporadic symptoms such as a lack of energy and recurrent urinary tract infections and it wasn't until she underwent a blood test and small bowel biopsy that she was officially diagnosed with coeliac disease in 2009.
Forman was told she needed to follow a strict gluten-free diet.
"People who don't understand coeliac disease think that if you say you are gluten-free that you are just part of the, currently trendy, gluten-free diet fad, but actually for many coeliacs it's a life-threatening illness," she said.