What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease, also known as gluten-sensitive enteropathy, sprue, or celiac sprue, is a disease in which the immune system triggers a defense response within the small intestine when one consumes gluten. Over time, celiac disease causes intestinal damage, which in turn can lead to malabsorption of nutrients and cause life-threatening side effects. In children, this disease negatively impacts growth and development. 

What Causes Celiac Disease?

The exact cause of celiac disease remains unknown. The disease is thought to be genetic, and there have been many documented cases in which the disease becomes active after surgery, emotional distress, pregnancy, and viral infections. Celiac disease can develop at any age.

 

Some risk factors of celiac disease are:

  • A family member with celiac disease

  • Down syndrome 

  • Turner syndrome 

  • Addison’s disease

  • Type I diabetes

  • Microscopic colitis 

 
What are the Symptoms of Celiac Disease?

Signs and symptoms of celiac disease vary between children and adults. Common symptoms include:

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Diarrhea or constipation

  • Abdominal bloating and pain

  • Gas 

  • Nausea and vomiting 

  • Persistent fatigue

  • Symptoms more common in adults include: 

  • Mouth ulcers

  • Joint pain 

  • Reduced splenic function 

  • Dermatitis including itchiness, rashes, and blisters

  • Osteoporosis and/or osteomalacia 

  • Numbness or tingling sensation in the extremities  

  • Balance and coordination impairment 

  • Headaches

Symptoms more common in children include:

  • Foul-smelling stool that is pale in color

  • Swollen stomachs

  • Chronic diarrhea 

  • Anemia

  • Irritability

  • Failure to thrive 

  • Short stature

  • Damaged tooth enamel

  • Delayed puberty and growth 

  • Neurological disorders (such as ADHD, seizures, poor muscle coordination)

  • Underweight

How is Celiac Disease Diagnosed?

Your physician may perform one or more of the following to diagnose celiac disease: 

Blood tests: These exams look for antibodies in the blood that may indicate gluten sensitivity. 


Genetic testing: These exams look for specific antigens that would rule out the presence of celiac disease. 


Skin biopsy: If the skin is showing signs of dermatitis, your physician may take a sample for lab analysis. 


Endoscopy: This procedure involves a thin tube fitted with a camera entering through the throat and into the digestive tract until it can capture a live image of the small intestine. This procedure will allow the physician to determine if there is any damage to the intestinal lining, particularly the villi which are hairlike structures that function to absorb nutrients.   

Although at-home celiac disease blood testing kits exist, there is no empirical data to support their accuracy. It is always important to obtain a diagnosis from a licensed medical professional, especially when drastically altering your diet and lifestyle, which is a process that should be carried out with the guidance of a physician. 

What is the Treatment for Celiac Disease?

Currently, there is no cure for celiac disease. The disease can be managed with a strict gluten-free diet, a consistent vitamin and supplement regimen, steroids to control inflammatory immune responses, regular tests to keep track of intestinal healing, and medications to treat dermatitis.  

Although exact diet specification varies from person to person, some foods that are generally safe to eat include:

  • Eggs

  • Fruits

  • Lentils

  • Nuts

  • Dairy products

  • Potatoes

  • Wines, ciders, and spirits 

  • Corn

  • Rice

  • Quinoa

  • Tapioca

  • Gluten-free flours 

Some items to avoid that may not seem obvious on the surface include:

  • Certain lipstick products

  • Certain toothpaste and mouthwashes

  • Envelope and stamp glue

  • Playdough 

  • Certain medications

  • Certain herbs and supplements 

  • Communion wafers 

It is always important to thoroughly read ingredient labels. 

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