Coeliac disease (CD) is a disorder of the small intestine, characterized by villous atrophy, due to an intolerance to dietary gluten in genetically susceptible individuals, which responds to gluten withdrawal. The underlying immunological mechanisms causing the disorder are still being worked out.
In recent years a wide range of clinical presentations has become increasingly apparent, as has a lengthening list of associated conditions. Severe malabsorption with steatorrhoea and profound weight loss is seen infrequently, perhaps as a result of earlier diagnosis and the recognition of ‘silent’ and ‘latent’ disease.
The prevalence of CD as judged by population screening with, in particular, anti-endomysial antibodies, appears to be much higher than that found with clinically apparent cases.
There are a variety of well recognized complications, the commonest probably being osteopenia and osteoporosis. The marked increased risk of lymphoma can be avoided by a strict gluten-free diet.
Follow-up of patients needs to be lifelong with prompt investigation of new symptoms and blood test abnormalities.