Dubai, UAE: Health experts warn that the number of children with coeliac disease could be under-reported because the digestive disorder is being misdiagnosed.
This increases the danger of youngsters developing health problems later in life, they said.
Dubai Health Authority said one per cent of Dubai’s population has coeliac disease, an immune response within the intestine that stops the body absorbing nutrients. That is similar to the number worldwide.
Dr Batoul Samarji, paediatric gastroenterologist at Dubai Hospital, said: “Different people will experience the disease in different ways because the symptoms vary greatly from one person to the next.
“Often, symptoms of coeliac are confused with other disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome and lactose intolerance.”
Dr Samarji warned allergy tests which are used to detect digestive disorders could lead to misdiagnosis of coeliac disease.
Blood tests can confirm coeliac disease to check the antibody level against gluten, he said.
Rashid Hospital runs an adult gastroenterology clinic and has diagnosed just 25 patients since 2003. In the same period, according to Dubai Hospital’s paediatric clinic, 50 children were found to have coeliac disease.
Adults symptoms include bone or joint pain, arthritis, depression or anxiety, osteoporosis, numbness in the hands and feet, erratic menstrual periods, fertility problems and dermatological problems.
Children can experience growth problems, decreased appetite and failure to gain weight, chronic diarrhoea, iron deficiency, chronic constipation, vomiting, abdominal bloating and pain, fatigue and irritability.
There is no pharmaceutical cure for coeliac, but avoiding all gluten in food such as wheat, rye, barley, malt, brewer’s yeast and oats can reduce problems.
Nutritionist Magalie Paillard, from France, who lives in Jumeirah Village Triangle, specialises in supporting people with special dietary needs.
“Everyday symptoms can be easily overlooked by parents, or mistaken for other conditions,” she said. “If left untreated, complications can arise ranging from iron deficiency, osteoporosis, infertility or cancer.”
Wendy Allcorn, 36, took her son Leo, 6, for tests when he was two. She was worried as he was waking up to 30 times a night and sometimes using the bathroom 15 times a day.
“I had been taking him to doctors since he was eight months old as he had diarrhoea, rashes and was miserable,” she said.
“His regular paediatrician told me not to come back for at least three months and dismissed his dermatitis as insect bites, as he was getting them every few weeks. Another doctor did the full allergy test and said Leo was allergic to camels and onions.”
Mrs Allcorn, an environmental engineer, has lived with husband Lee, 35, and other son Karl, 5, in Victoria Heights, Sports City, since 2008.
“The doctors here are generally not experienced to understand the readings of allergy tests that often give false positives when someone is unwell,” she added.
A dermatologist diagnosed Leo’s rashes as chronic idiopathic urticaria, as he kept suffering hives and was prescribed daily antihistamines.
He took medication for two years, before blood tests at a clinic in London correctly diagnosed him as coeliac. The family has since adopted a gluten-free diet, and Leo is happy and healthy.
Coeliac disease is often hereditary, so those with a parent or sibling with the condition have a 10 per cent chance of developing it.
Dr Mustafa Sabri, a gastroenterologist in the digestive diseases unit at Rashid Hospital, said the disease affects people of all ages.
“We had a case in which a five-month old baby was exposed to solid food containing gluten and we discovered the baby had coeliac disease,” he said.
“Similarly, we have seen many cases where people have eaten gluten for years and the disease only kicks in at a later stage.”
© The NationalMar 2015