Coeliac disease in children

Also known as celiac disease

Key points about coeliac disease in children

  • Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease.
  • It is caused by an abnormal reaction by your child's immune (infection-fighting) system to gluten.
  • Gluten is a protein in wheat, barley, rye and sometimes oats.
  • Talk to your family doctor if you think your child has coeliac disease.
  • Your child may need a blood test to see if they have coeliac disease.
  • A strict gluten-free diet is the only treatment for coeliac disease.
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Video: Coeliac disease in children

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(Coeliac NZ, 2019)

Coeliac disease is common and can run in families. If your tamariki has coeliac disease, they may have some symptoms or none at all. They'll need to follow a strict gluten-free diet.

The information and link below focus on coeliac disease in children. Find out more about coeliac disease in general.

Coeliac (also known as celiac) disease is an autoimmune disease. It is caused by an abnormal reaction by your child's immune (infection-fighting) system to gluten. Gluten is a protein in wheat, barley, rye and sometimes oats. Your child's immune system mistakes gluten as a threat to the body. In an attempt to protect the body from the threat, the immune system creates special gluten-fighting antibodies to fight it.

If your child has coeliac disease, these gluten-fighting antibodies damage the lining of the small bowel. This interferes with the absorption of nutrients from food and means your child may not absorb enough vitamins (such as folic acid) and minerals (such as iron and calcium).

Children with coeliac disease may have some of the following symptoms but may also have none at all:

  • large, bulky, smelly poo
  • diarrhoea
  • constipation
  • farting
  • poor weight gain
  • weight loss in older children
  • low iron and/or anaemia
  • poor growth
  • uncomfortable and swollen abdomen
  • nausea and vomiting
  • tiredness and/or irritability.

If you think your child has coeliac disease, talk to your family doctor. Tell your doctor if a relative has coeliac disease.

To learn more about coeliac disease in children, go to KidsHealth.(external link)

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Credits: Content shared between HealthInfo Canterbury, KidsHealth and Health Navigator NZ as part of a National Health Content Hub Collaborative.

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