About 600,000 people in the UK have coeliac disease, which is a chronic intolerance to gluten, most commonly found in wheat. Yet Coeliac UK estimates that as many as four out of five have yet to be diagnosed.
These findings come from a YouGov poll of 1,500 people with the disease, commissioned by Coeliac UK and published to coincide with the start of Coeliac Awareness Week on Monday.
"A survey of our members revealed that about 30 per cent of respondents visited their GP seven or more times before they were diagnosed, and more than 40 per cent had to wait for longer than a year to be tested," explained Kevin Monks, external relations officer at Coeliac UK.
"Symptoms include bloatedness, fatigue and anaemia, which could easily be put down to something else. If it is undiagnosed for a long time, it could lead to osteoporosis or cancer of the gut."
One of the main aims of the campaign is to encourage the Government to provide better training for GPs, so the charity will have information leaflets on display in the main hall of the House of Commons all week.
Last year it also set up an all-party parliamentary group, which will be tabling an Early Day Motion calling for more support for GPs that will help them make earlier diagnoses.
A media campaign to raise awareness of the symptoms has the backing of a number of celebrities, including the resident TV doctor on ITV's This Morning, Chris Steel. The campaign is also being supported by TV chef Giorgio Locatelli, who has come up with some gluten-free recipes.
Singer-songwriter Margo Buchanan, who was diagnosed with the disease several years ago, is releasing her first solo album and will describe in interviews how it is only since her diagnosis that she has had the energy to record the album.
The YouGov poll also revealed that 96 per cent of respondents reported that all or some of their symptoms disappeared once they began to manage their diets. In view of this, Coeliac UK is holding an 'online advice shop' on its website today (www.coeliacuk.org), where dieticians will be on hand to answer any queries.