THE number of children with gluten intolerance in one part of Scotland has more than doubled in five years, a new survey has found.

Fresh research to be presented at a major meeting of children's health experts has found that the number of children diagnosed with coeliac disease in the Lothian health region rose significantly between 2010 and 2015.

Data from the Royal Hospital for Sick Children found that a total of 168 patients under the age of 16 were identified as having coeliac disease between 2010 and 2014, with 30 per cent of these identified in 2014, compared to only 12.5 per cent in 2010.

Statistics show that cases rose from 21 cases in 2010, moving to 34 in 2012 and 49 by 2014.

Coeliac disease is where the body’s immune system attacks itself in reaction to gluten from wheat, barley and rye. The only way to treat the illness is a gluten-free diet.

The condition is thought to be present in one per cent of the UK population but the majority are thought to be undiagnosed.

Doctors say that the rise in cases in Lothian may be down to better awareness of the disease and more stringent diagnostic techniques.

But they have warned that more must be done to identify cases early, as the condition can cause severe complications in later life.

Lead author of the report and member of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Dr Peter Gillett, said: “Coeliac disease can lead to growth failure, delayed puberty and dental problems in children if not diagnosed early. That it is why it is imperative that we do more to identify cases of the disease early and help prevent these potential long term problems.”

“These results highlight a true rise in the incidence of coeliac disease in Lothian for young people. And although it is concerning to see cases rising, this could mean there is increased awareness and a lower threshold to test for the disease helping to see higher rates of diagnosis.

“We must now compare these results with other areas of Scotland to help target awareness campaigns and improve diagnosis in areas where the disease is most prevalent.”

The research will be presented at the St Andrew’s Day Symposium, hosted by the Scottish Paediatric Society in partnership with the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow and the Scottish Association of Community Child Health.