MSP Shirley-Anne Somerville wants to raise awareness about coeliac disease

WHEN MSP Shirley-Anne Somerville noticed her baby daughter Niamh was not putting on weight, she was afraid something was seriously wrong.

After months of anxiety, and discussions with doctors and health visitors about her constant sickness and extreme fatigue, the family

took her to a hospital when she developed a fever. It was here they learned the truth – she had coeliac disease, and gluten, a protein in wheat, was making her sick.

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Niamh is now a normal toddler of 22 months who for six months has been on a gluten-free diet.

Somerville wants to raise awareness about the need to recognise coeliac symptoms early. Experts say some people wait years to be diagnosed. The disease affects one in 100 people in the UK, but only about 12 per cent of sufferers are identified.

Somerville said she grew concerned about Niamh's vomiting, distended belly and lethargy just after her first birthday.

Niamh was referred to hospital in Dunfermline at 16 months for "failure to thrive". But the family were told, not for the first time, that her sickness was merely due to bugs. After going to hospital with a fever in November, she was tested for anaemia, and her low iron levels flagged up coeliac.

Coeliac symptoms include diarrhoea, constipation and – often but not always – weight loss.

It can be diagnosed by a blood test performed by a GP. Experts say failure to diagnose early increases the risk of infertility, miscarriages, osteoporosis and bowel cancer.