Echuca's Keith Whaley is one of many people in Australia living with coeliac disease, the most under-diagnosed illness in the country.By Ivy Wise
New research revealing coeliac disease is the most under-diagnosed illness in Australia is no surprise to Echuca’s Keith Whaley.
Mr Whaley was 51 when he was diagnosed six years ago.
Feeling unwell and having no energy, Mr Whaley put it down to exhaustion from working long hours.
However, a blood test and gastroscopy revealed he had coeliac disease.
In people with coeliac disease, the immune system reacts abnormally to gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats), causing small bowel damage.
If left undetected, it can lead to serious medical complications such as infertility, liver failure and cancer.
Although the disease cannot be cured, it can be controlled with a strict, life-long gluten-free diet.
With his diet consisting of a lot of bread and other gluten foods, Mr Whaley had to start reading food labels and went cold turkey.
‘‘All the supermarkets, shops, clubs and takeaway places have gluten-free options, so there’s been no major dramas,’’ he said.
‘‘You’ve just got to learn to read the labels.’’
Occasionally, there are times he misses bread or a good old meat pie.
‘‘Not being able to buy a beer is probably the hardest part,’’ he said.
‘‘What can you do though? Bang your head on the wall or just think ‘Oh well, life’s a bastard and keep going’.
‘‘A lot of people are worse off.’’
After starting his gluten-free diet, Mr Whaley said he felt better almost immediately.
‘‘My overall wellbeing, I feel a lot better,’’ he said.
The importance of being tested
District residents experiencing symptoms of coeliac disease are being encouraged to get tested.
A study, published in BMC Medicine, found only one in five coeliacs know they have the condition, with more than 80 per cent of cases going undetected.
Diagnosis is achieved through an antibody test and bowel biopsy, which some consider costly and invasive.
Coeliac Australia’s Medical Advisory Committee member Dr Tye-Din said this approach made testing more accessible and appealing to people who suffered from coeliac disease symptoms.
Symptoms can include diarrhoea, constipation, nausea, vomiting, flatulence, cramping, bloating, abdominal pain, fatigue, weakness and lethargy, iron deficiency, anaemia, weight loss or gain, bone and joint pains, mouth ulcers, irritability, skin rashes and easy bruising of the skin.
For information, visit www.coeliac.org.au
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