Coeliac disease - Symptoms 

Symptoms of coeliac disease 

Diarrhoea

Diarrhoea is the passing of watery stools more than is normal for you. It is often a symptom of an infection or long-term condition. In this video, Dr Rupal Shah explains the most common causes of diarrhoea and the effects it can have on your body.

Media last reviewed: 30/04/2013

Next review due: 30/04/2015

Dermatitis herpetiformis

Although not a symptom of coeliac disease, if you have an auto-immune response to gluten, you may also develop a type of skin rash known as dermatitis herpetiformis. 

The rash is itchy and characterised by blisters which burst when scratched. The rash usually appears on your elbows, knees and buttocks, although it can appear anywhere on your body.

It is estimated that around one in five people with coeliac disease also develops dermatitis herpetiformis. 

The exact cause of dermatitis herpetiformis is not known but, as with coeliac disease, the condition is associated with gluten. Like coeliac disease, it should clear up after switching to a gluten-free diet.

Symptoms of coeliac disease can range from mild to severe.

Recognise the symptoms:

  • indigestion
  • mild abdominal (stomach) pain
  • bloating
  • occasional changes in bowel habit, such as episodes of mild diarrhoea or constipation
  • anaemia (tiredness, breathlessness and an irregular heartbeat, caused by a lack of iron in the blood)
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • tingling and numbness in your hands and feet (peripheral neuropathy)
  • vomiting (usually only affects children)
  • alopecia (loss of hair) usually only affects adults

The symptoms are often intermittent (they stop and then start again), and sometimes appear unrelated to your diet and digestive symptoms.

Mild cases of coeliac disease may not cause any noticeable symptoms and the condition is often only detected during testing for another condition. However, treatment is recommended as complications can still occur in these cases.

Severe coeliac disease

Symptoms of severe coeliac disease include:

  • diarrhoea, which can often suddenly occur during the night, resulting in bowel incontinence (loss of bowel control) 
  • weight loss
  • stomach cramps
  • muscle spasms
  • swelling of your hands, feet, arms and legs, caused by a build-up of fluid (oedema)

Your stools (faeces or 'poo') may also contain abnormally high levels of fat (steatorrhoea), which can make them foul smelling, greasy and frothy. They may also be difficult to flush down the toilet.

If coeliac disease is untreated, being unable to digest food in the normal way could cause you to become malnourished, making you feel tired and lacking in energy.

Malnutrition in children can lead to failure to grow at the expected rate, both in terms of weight and height, and in older children a delayed puberty.

Page last reviewed: 02/05/2012

Next review due: 02/05/2014

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The 7 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

mazlou1014 said on 13 January 2014

I hope someone here might be able to shed some light i have suffered pretty much everything but the wieght loss in the symptoms of this for months now i am uncomfortable so much of the time and every test the doctors run say i am healthy the last test they did was a gastroscopy at the end of october start of november and nothing was seen to be wrong. I am getting worse and theyre trying now to treat all my symptoms individually which i hope goes better in the next week because so far it is not working i need help but no one seems to be able to i cant keep going like this if i knew it would end i would be fine but it is never ending getting worse any help will be appreciated.

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airportbaz said on 01 October 2013

I was diagnosed with Coeliac disease at Manchester Royal Infirmary in 1979 after a motorbike accident left me with a broke femur, two broken wrists and various other stuff that led me to be in traction for a while. I have since followed a strict GF diet as far as I could, I have enjoyed many curries as most are made with chickpea or potato flour and have never suffered any symptoms. However, last night I tried a 'new' restaurant (new to me, its been there years) and early this morning I woke with the old urgent feelings, did what I had to do and went back to bed. Woke up a little later and felt s-o-o-o-o tired. Continued with the frequent visits then, after a short trip out to catch up with a friend, I sat down for 15 minutes or so, when I tried to get back up again I was struck with pain in every joint in my body. The only thing I can come up with, what with all these symptoms revealing themselves at once, is that the curry house has used 'normal' flour(s). I am sharing this just to let anyone suffering the same way know that it will pass. It was a mistake to assume the food would be ok just because it always has been in other establishments.

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cava said on 22 July 2013

Just been informed that my 11 year old daughter has tested positive foe coeliac disease, has anyone else's child been diagnosed so young and what major amendments have you made in their diet ?
A worried mum

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Welshgem64 said on 12 July 2013

Hi, am Donna 48 yrs old
I have a few symptoms and I have noticed that when I eat certain foods my stomach feels awful, Bloated, Pain in my Stomach, Constipation, Loss of Appetite, feeling sick, Mild Indigestion, some Weight Loss an now Pernicious Anaemia. I did a home test but says negative but can you still have this

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AGF said on 28 January 2013

This is very interesting. I have always suffered with what I would term as bad digestion and mouth ulcers.

I recently decided I wanted to lose some excess weight, and so went on dietary milkshakes. I know that there are other, better ways to lose weight, but when working 9 hour days, often more, in an office chair, I wanted a calorie reduced diet. This has meant almost entirely cutting out bread for three weeks. The result? I have no mouth ulcers, and my stools have been normal, with much less stomach discomfort.

This caused me to try to research a possible cause for mouth ulcers, which lead me to this post. I will have to go to the doctors for tests, but I found this very interesting and informative.

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evesca said on 19 December 2012

Don't look at all the symptom's and assume if you haven't had weight loss your not Coeliac, unfortunately there are a few people (myself included) who gain weight. My specialist claims this is because after a while your body starts absorbing everything (including fat) into your system while it can, hope this helps someone as it wasn't something I was aware of x

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vanprague said on 08 February 2012

Liz 48yrs old
Hi was diagnose with coeliacs disease April 2011. I suffer with infalmmation pain in my lower adoman and it appears to go on for weeks, i am on codine phosate but the side affects are constipation and so I end up not really solving the problem, Im constantly tired and have no motivation to do anything. I am also going through the menopause and have had a marina coil filtted, are both conditions having an adverse affect ?. Does anyone know if the menopause has an affect on coeliacs as there is at present no medical evidence to suggest there is any connection. Getting fed up. Liz

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