One in 70 Australians are estimated to have coeliac disease, yet roughly 4 out of 5 remain undiagnosed. Early diagnosis of coeliac disease reduces the risk of long-term health complications and can have a profound impact on your child’s quality of life.
We sat down with Coeliac Australia Health Advocacy Officer Penny Dellsperger, who shares her top five tips for understanding coeliac disease in children.
1. Check for symptoms
Coeliac disease presents with a large variety of signs and symptoms. This can make it hard to recognise. The below symptoms and signs are the ones I would recommend being aware of when it comes to coeliac disease. If your child has any of the following, I would recommend organising a time to have your child screened.
- Persistent and unexplained gastrointestinal symptoms
- Faltering growth or failure to thrive
- Chronic fatigue (tiredness)
- Unexplained iron, folate or B12 deficiency
- Generally unwell or ‘out of sorts’
- Another autoimmune disease e.g. type 1 diabetes
- Dental enamel defects
- A close family member with coeliac disease
2. Don’t remove gluten from their diet!
If you suspect your child may have coeliac disease, do not, I repeat, DO NOT, remove gluten from the diet prior to testing. Doing so may prevent an accurate diagnosis or delay the diagnosis of another condition. This will not help your child in the long run.
3. Do not delay gluten introduction in infants
The introduction of gluten to an infant’s diet should not be delayed, even when there is a family history of coeliac disease. In terms of how to introduce gluten, it can and should be introduced as per standard feeding practices followed in any other child.
4. See a Paediatric Gastroenterologist
A paediatric gastroenterologist is the only health professional able to diagnose coeliac disease in children. This may involve a biopsy however, in select cases, children can also be diagnosed without the need for a biopsy if specific criteria are met. Your GP or paediatrician can arrange a referral to a paediatric gastroenterologist.
5. Family History
Do you have a history of coeliac disease in the family?
If your child is symptom free and growing normally but has other risk factor/s for coeliac disease e.g. they have an immediate family member with coeliac disease, screening is recommended around 4 years of age (even if they are otherwise well).
We hope the above helps and if you would like any further information about coeliac disease in children, you can visit Coeliac Australia’s website or visit one of the upcoming Gluten Free Expo in Melbourne on 15 & 16 October where there will be stalls and plenty of great informational and educational advice on offer as well as tastings of delicious gluten free foods for the kids.