Coeliac awareness week in Chartered Accountants House

May 30, 2019

From 13–19 May 2019, the Institute marked Coeliac Awareness Week. Linking in with the Coeliac Society, we placed posters all around the building in both the staff and public areas of our Pearse Street premises.

The posters and literature notified of signs and symptoms of coeliac disease with information on what to do if you suspect you or a family member are amongst the 1 in 100 people suffering from the disease. Even at a very local level, this would imply that several hundred of our staff, students and members suffer.

Many people don’t understand the exact nature of the implications of the condition and the symptoms. The theme of the week in 2019 was to boost awareness of signs and symptoms to encourage people who feel they might suffer from it to be tested and formally diagnosed.

The feedback from the information we made available was very positive, with comments from staff that they found it useful, would like to test either themselves or family members having been made aware of symptoms, and that they now have a better knowledge, awareness and understanding of this disease.

A few of the things we wanted to highlight during coeliac awareness week for our staff and visitors to our building were as follows.

What is coeliac disease?

The condition is an autoimmune disorder, meaning that the body’s tissues are attacked by its own immune system. It is a chronic condition with no vaccination and no known cure.

Some might think it is an allergy to gluten, but it is not. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and oats – coeliacs cannot eat any of these foods.

When a coeliac eats food containing gluten, the lining of the intestine which absorbs nutrients is damaged, meaning they can’t absorb key vitamins and minerals from their food and can consequently become malnourished.

What to look out for if you think you might have coeliac disease:

  • The most obvious sign is stomach discomfort (bloating, constipation, nausea, diarrhoea) after eating foods containing gluten.
  • Fatigue,
  • Anaemia,
  • A visibly protruding stomach that goes down after a time,
  • Repeated miscarriages,
  • Infertility,
  • Low bone density,
  • Failure to thrive in children:
    • Lower height/weight than their peers
    • Lack of growth in e.g. their feet, slow to lose milk teeth

Treatment

There is no cure for coeliac disease; the condition is managed by adhering strictly to a gluten-free diet for life. This allows the gut to repair.

The disease is relatively easy to manage with a wide range of gluten free products available.

How to cater for a coeliac

One key misconception is that providing gluten-free food will be sufficient to cater for coeliacs. Cross-contamination is extremely problematic for coeliacs. For example, if a coeliac eats a sandwich made with gluten-free bread and fillings, but the butter used has crumbs from regular bread, or it has been prepared on a board previously used for regular bread, or the utensils were used for regular bread, this will cause a reaction.

Likewise, fried gluten-free food such as potato chips that have been fried in the same oil as breaded chicken nuggets will be contaminated and are therefore not suitable for coeliacs.

It is important for coeliacs to ask catering staff about their kitchens and food preparation. It is also important for staff to be well informed about the condition.

Where to find out more and what to do next

If you think you might have coeliac disease, you should go to your GP and request a blood test. It is vital that you do not omit gluten from your diet before a conclusive diagnosis to ensure an accurate result and diagnosis. In cases where there is no family history, a follow-up biopsy might be required which is a very simple procedure.

The Coeliac Society are the body representing coeliacs in Ireland and have a lot of information on their website, including a symptoms check list and self-assessment tool.