Coeliac UK has launched its first PR campaign to increase awareness of the condition caused by a sensitivity to gluten, found in wheat, rye, barley and oats.
The local and national press is being targeted with details of the charity's research, showing GPs' low awareness of the disease.
Half of a UK-wide sample of 26 GPs were found to have diagnosed the disease by guesswork, while 10 per cent admitted that they had made the diagnosis only after the patients had suggested they might have coeliac.
The charity says awareness of the condition is among the lowest of all food allergies, despite its high prevalence. Some 250,000 people have been diagnosed and the charity predicts there could be up to 500,000 more undiagnosed cases.
It wants to reach GPs to improve diagnosis, and caterers and food manufacturers to improve the range of gluten-free foods. The charity will meet with GPs and food industry leaders once the media campaign has finished.
"There are a number of people who think they have a wheat allergy or irritable bowel syndrome when they may well have coeliac disease," said Andrew Ladds, the charity's chief executive.