Managing Coeliac Disease in Children

17 October 2022
Posted by: Chelsea

Coeliac disease is a distressing condition and particularly so when it strikes younger children.

The good news is that it is possible to work on managing coeliac disease in children.

What is coeliac disease?

This disease means that your child’s body won’t be able to handle gluten.

Gluten is a natural protein found in food items such as rye, wheat, oats and barley. These are often also used as additives in a wide variety of other foodstuffs such as soups and sauces.

A sufferer’s immune system is triggered by the presence of gluten and can start to attack the small intestine. Not only does that make the person or child feel unwell but it also inhibits the function of the intestine and that may result in its inability to correctly absorb nutrients from the food.

It is unclear what exactly causes this but it is known to be genetically inherited. Very roughly, it seems that if one or either biological parent suffers from the disease then their offspring has about a 10% chance of suffering from it too.

There is no cure. Treatment consists largely of following a gluten-free diet and most probably for the rest of the sufferer’s life. Once gluten is removed from the diet, the healing of the small intestine is typically rapid.

Children can start with symptoms of the disease from around 6 months when gluten is typically first introduced through more diverse solid foodstuffs.

Symptoms and diagnosis

There is a huge list of potential symptoms that might indicate this disease. They include the inability to gain weight, diarrhoea, stomach pains, vomiting and many other unpleasant effects.

A doctor will usually consider a range of options and typically diagnosis will commence will a blood test. Depending upon the results of that, usually involving an antibody inspection, the doctor may order a minor 15–20 minute surgical procedure involving an inspection of the intestine by camera.

Managing the condition

There is little that’s required other than to eliminate gluten from the child’s diet. This is easier today than in previous times due to the better food-labelling standards and the ability to shop specifically for gluten-free products. A good starting point would be to consider removing:

  • biscuits;
  • cakes;
  • bread;
  • breakfast cereals and related bars;
  • pastry;
  • pizza bases;
  • pasta;
  • crumbed and battered food.

Eating in restaurants can be a challenge although many increasingly will carry a selection or two that is clearly labelled as being gluten-free. Some very specialist restaurants may offer exclusively gluten-free foodstuffs but these tend to be found only in the bigger cities and inner-city areas.

It is also a good idea to be wary of many pre-packed foods, instant foods and takeaways. These may well contain thickening agents that have gluten as a by-product ingredient.

In the home, it’s also important to maintain a sanitary cordon around your gluten-free foodstuffs. For example, don’t use them in containers that have previously held gluten-based products and don’t prepare gluten-free meals using cutlery or other items that might have previously been used for gluten products.

It is a tough regime to adopt and get used to but once you do, it should be possible for your child to lead a reasonably normal life.

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