As part of Coeliac Awareness Week, Gazette reporter Sarah Howells reflects on her own coeliac diagnosis and life on a gluten free diet

'Gluten free' may appear to many to be some healthy fashion trend, but did you know for one in 100 people in the UK, it's the only treatment for a life-long condition?

In fact of those people, as many as 70 per cent don't even know they actually have coeliac disease - an autoimmune condition where the body's immune system damages the lining of the small intestine when you eat gluten.

Many have been given a misdiagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) instead. Which is just one of the reasons why the average diagnosis time for coeliac disease is a shocking 13 years.

This is largely down to many symptoms which are synonymous between the two conditions - including stomach pains, diarrhoea, wind and constipation.

This week, as part of Coeliac Awareness Week (May 13-19), the charity Coeliac UK is calling on anyone who has IBS and was not tested for coeliac disease to visit their GP and ask to be tested.

I was diagnosed with coeliac disease when I was about 12-years-old. At first my GP thought my stomach pains were down to a lactose intolerlance, and the fact I was a very small and skinny child was put down to my thyroid.

It wasn't until my family doctor was off sick and I saw another GP that the idea of coeliac disease was even mentioned.

A blood test and endoscopy later, and that was it - I was an offical new member of the coeliac club and sent home with a box of dense, brick-like gluten free bread to try (don't worry, it's improved a lot in 18 years!).

For many though, the journey to diagnosis is not so simple, with years of misdiagnosis.

An accurate test also relies on the patient continuing to eat gluten. If someone has been told they have IBS and cut out gluten, the idea of eating it again and feeling unwell is understandably not the most endearing.

But one thing is for sure, the awareness is growing year-on-year, and many people are finally getting the coeliac diagnosis they should have had years ago.

It's not just an intolerance or something you can 'cheat' on a little bit. If left untreated long-term, it can cause all sorts of complications such as infertility, osteoporosis and even bowel cancer.

So the message is clear: if in doubt, please go and speak to your GP about getting tested. Visit Coeliac UK's website for more symptoms and advice.

You can also visit Sarah's blog, The Gluten Free Blogger, for more helpful advice and recipes for life on a gluten free diet.