Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects an estimated three million Americans and 1 in 100 people worldwide. While there is currently no known cure, with early detection and proper treatment individuals with celiac disease can lead a healthy life.
What is celiac disease?
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that results in digestive problems affecting the small intestine and prevents your body from taking in nutrients from food.
How does celiac disease affect the body?
When an individual with celiac disease consumes gluten, the protein found in wheat, rye, barley and sometimes in small amounts in mixed oats, his or her immune system reacts unusually by damaging the tiny bumps, known as villi, that line the small intestine. Villi are important because they help our bodies absorb nutrients from food. A person with celiac disease, who has damaged villi, will be unable to take in enough nutrients no matter how much food he or she consumes.
What are the signs/symptoms of celiac disease?
Celiac disease affects people in different ways. Some have symptoms as children. Others have symptoms only as adults. Some will have no symptoms at all.
While each person’s symptoms vary, common signs of celiac disease include:
- Abdominal pain,
- Nausea & vomiting,
- Damage to tooth enamel,
- Chronic iron deficiency anemia,
- Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities,
- Reduced bone mass and fractures,
- Infertility, and
- Chronic migraines.
Children with celiac disease might not grow at a normal rate.
Many people with celiac disease won’t experience any symptoms. For these individuals, the small intestine is still able to take in enough nutrients. However, even asymptomatic individuals are at risk of developing disease related issues.
If you think you might be allergic to gluten, monitor how you feel after you have eaten. Reach out to your primary care provider if you have concerns.
Who is at greater risk of developing celiac disease?
Celiac disease is genetic and can be passed from parent to child. It is more common in people who are white, have type 1 diabetes, are obese or have ancestors from Europe. More children have celiac disease than Crohn’s Disease, ulcerative colitis, and cystic fibrosis combined.
Celiac disease can develop at any age after people start eating foods or medications that contain gluten. Early detection can help prevent the development of complications including other autoimmune disorders.
How is celiac disease diagnosed?
Sometimes celiac disease is difficult to diagnose as symptoms mimic other digestive problems. There are two steps to being diagnosed with celiac disease including a blood test and an endoscopy.
People recently diagnosed with celiac disease are commonly deficient in fiber, iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, folate, niacin, riboflavin, vitamin B12, and vitamin D. Talk to your doctor about getting back on track.
How is it treated?
Individuals with celiac disease should follow a gluten-free diet and avoid foods and other products that contain gluten. For most people, following this diet will stop symptoms, heal existing intestinal damage, and prevent further damage. While there is currently no cure for celiac disease, there is active research now to develop treatment options beyond diet including medications and vaccines.
Find more information on label checking in this week’s Q&A section.
While treatment can be as simple as diet restrictions, left untreated, celiac disease can cause other health issues. If you think you or someone you love might have celiac disease reach out to your primary care provider today!
For more information about celiac disease here are more resources
Beyond Celiac- https://www.beyondceliac.org/. Phone number 844-856-6692
Celiac Disease Foundation- https://celiac.org/. Phone number (818) 716-1513
National Celiac Association- https://nationalceliac.org/. Phone number 1-888-4-CELIAC
Gluten Intolerance Group of North America- https://gluten.org/. Phone number 1-253-833-6655
- Adapted from celiac disease foundation- https://celiac.org/about-the-foundation/featured-news/2016/08/20-things-you-might-not-know-about-celiac-disease/