Coeliac disease in children
- Coeliac disease affects one in 100 children and up to three in 100 in some other European countries.
- Most children are undiagnosed and don’t get diagnosed until later in life.
- Symptoms include diarrhoea and other gut symptoms, faltering growth or a change in growth pattern, irritability and a bloated tummy.
- In undiagnosed, untreated coeliac disease there is a greater risk of complications including impaired weight gain and growth problems, delayed puberty, iron deficiency anaemia, chronic fatigue and osteoporosis.
- A gluten free diet should only begin once a child is formally diagnosed with coeliac disease by a healthcare professional.
Coeliac disease in children is common, affecting one in 100 children in most of Europe, and as many as three in 100 in some countries. However, most children have not yet been diagnosed.
Untreated coeliac disease can mean serious health complications like impaired weight gain and growth problems, delayed puberty, iron deficiency anaemia, chronic fatigue and even osteoporosis, so it's really important to get your child tested if they show any of the classic symptoms of coeliac disease in children:
- bloated tummy
- diarrhoea and other gut symptoms
- faltering growth or a change in growth pattern.
The first step in diagnosis is to discuss your concerns with your child's GP. You can take our online assessment on their behalf to see if their symptoms could be coeliac disease. You can then print the results and take these to your doctor to help your conversation.
Do not remove gluten from their diet until they are diagnosed by a healthcare professional.
Guidelines published by the British Society of Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (BSPGHAN) and Coeliac UK recommend that children who have symptoms of coeliac disease and a blood test that shows high levels of antibodies may not need a biopsy to be diagnosed with the disease. Instead, a second antibody blood test followed by a genetic test can be used to confirm the diagnosis. This is much less invasive and quicker for your child. Ask your GP to refer them to a paediatric gastroenterologist.
Follow up for children
Once your child is diagnosed, BSPGHAN recommend ongoing monitoring by an experienced paediatric dietitian and paediatric gastroenterologist. Children should be followed up six to 12 months after diagnosis and then with a yearly check up after this. This should include an antibody blood test every year or less often. Another biopsy may be offered but is not carried out routinely.
Children should also have their height and weight checked to monitor their growth and development.
However, if your child’s symptoms have not improved or have got worse since following the gluten free diet, speak to your healthcare team.
Managing your child's coeliac disease and ensuring they receive the appropriate follow up care can be overwhelming. We are here to help with our 50 years of expertise in all things gluten free. Call our helpline team on 0333 332 2033 for friendly advice and we can help you through.
For more information, take a look at our interviews with top coeliac disease experts for tips on what care to expect.
Find out more
Download our fact sheet on supporting a child with coeliac disease below, and check out our joint manifesto and infographic, produced with the Association of European Coeliac Societies (AOECS) and the European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN). We also have a leaflet for younger children (up to about age six) called The Belly Bunch.
And for an expert's view on coeliac disease in children, watch our Q&A videos with paediatric gastroenterologist Dr Peter Gillett below, or check out our YouTube channel for more.