LEADING a gluten- free life has meant careful dietary planning for Launceston's Kate Collings.
She was diagnosed 23 years ago with coeliac disease.
"When I was first diagnosed in Launceston, there was very little support available," she said.
"Back then, the biggest thing was bread. Now there's a massive range of gluten-free bread available."
Together with some other women who also had the disease, Mrs Collings set up a support group, and there are now branches in each region of the state.
For people with coeliac disease, the immune system reacts abnormally to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats. This causes small bowel damage.
The surface area of the bowel available for nutrient absorption is reduced, which can lead to gastrointestinal and malabsorptive symptoms.
This can leave sufferers feeling sick and tired, with stomach pains, bloating or weight loss all common symptoms.
Today, there is a range of information available on the condition, including smart phone apps.
Mrs Collings's "bible" is The Gluten Free Travel Guide, which includes pages with foreign translations explaining the disease and the foods she needs to avoid.
Mrs Collings said diagnosis from a gastroenterologist was critical, to determine the level of damage to the bowel.
Coeliac Awareness Week began on Wednesday.
Coeliac Australia says the disease affects about one in 100 Australians. But around 80 per cent, or 184,000 of the 230,000 people with the disease, don't realise it.
Left untreated, it can lead to osteoporosis, infertility and cancer.
The Launceston coeliac support group will next meet on Wednesday, April 10, at the Community Health Centre, McHugh St Kings Meadows. Contact Janey Harris on 6343 6252.
The North-West support group will next meet at the Devonport Community Centre, 23 Steele Street, on Tuesday, April 2. Contact Peter Foley on 6427 2496.