Just 3% of adults in the UK are aware that the symptoms of irritable bowl syndrome (IBS) could be a sign of coeliac disease, according to an online YouGov survey.
The survey of 8,423 people carried out over a two-week period revealed a distinct lack of awareness amongst the public when it came to the two conditions, with one in four with coeliac disease having been misdiagnosed with IBS.
Coeliac UK warned that half a million people in the UK are unwittingly living with coeliac disease, prompting the charity to urge people with IBS to get tested.
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease which causes the body’s immune system to damage the lining of the small bowel when gluten is eaten. There is currently no cure or medication and sufferers are put on a gluten-free diet for life.
If left untreated, the disease can lead to serious complications such as anaemia, osteoporosis, unexplained infertility, neurological conditions and even an increased risk of small bowel cancer and intestinal lymphoma.
Norma McGough, Coeliac UK director of policy, research and campaigns, said: “It is essential that awareness of the similarity of the symptoms (between IBS and coeliac disease) increases and that GPs adhere to National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guideline(s) which states that anyone with IBS symptoms should be tested for coeliac disease before a diagnosis of IBS is made.
“The first step to diagnosing coeliac disease is a simple, inexpensive blood test done in primary care, but thousands of people are not getting the necessary testing and are being left undiagnosed including those with IBS symptoms.
“This not only causes years of unnecessary suffering but also wasted costs to the NHS with repeated appointments and investigations. We urge anyone who has symptoms such as ongoing bloating, diarrhoea or constipation and has been given a diagnosis of IBS but not been tested for coeliac disease to ask their GP to test them for coeliac disease.
“However, it is essential to keep eating gluten until all tests are completed as otherwise these tests may give a false negative result.”
During a six-month pilot funded by Coeliac UK, 15 community pharmacies provided free testing for the antibodies produced in coeliac disease to patients presenting with prescriptions or requesting OTC medicines indicated in the management of IBS, diarrhoea and other gastro-intestinal problems.
Of the 551 individuals tested, 52 were given a positive result. The scheme revealed that community pharmacies can speed up the early diagnosis and increase detection rates for coeliac disease.
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