Celiac disease, also known as celiac sprue or gluten sensitive enteropathy, is an autoimmune disease that affects children and adults. It is a chronic digestive disorder that results in reaction to foods that contain gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale. It is most often found in foods like bread, pasta, and pizza crust, but can also be found in products like medicine and lipstick. While this condition was once considered rare, it now affects more than 2 million people in the United States.
When gluten is consumed, the villi, which absorb nutrients from food and are located in the small intestine, attack themselves and prevent food from being absorbed into the bloodstream. This leads to malabsorption. The cause of celiac disease is unknown, but it tends to run in families.
Symptoms of Celiac Disease
Celiac disease can cause a variety of symptoms, depending on the person. Symptoms of celiac disease may be gastrointestinal or related to malabsorption and may depend on the patient’s age and degree of damage to the small intestine. Some common symptoms of celiac disease may include the following:
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss
- Foul-smelling or fatty stools
- Dermatitis herpetiformis
- Bone or joint pain
People with celiac disease are at a higher risk for developing other immune system disorders such as:
- Thyroid disease
- Liver disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Addison’s disease
Celiac disease may also lead to a loss of calcium and bone density, lactose intolerance and cancer.
Diagnosis of Celiac Disease
After a thorough medical examination by the physician, blood tests to check for high levels of certain auto-antibodies may be performed. A small bowel biopsy may also be performed to confirm the diagnosis and determine the degree of damage to the lining of the intestine.
Treatment of Celiac Disease
The only treatment for celiac disease is in maintaining a gluten-free diet and lifestyle. Removing gluten from the diet will eventually repair the damage already caused to the small intestine, as well as prevent further damage. Many people work with a dietitian to develop a gluten-free diet with plenty of options and alternatives. This diet must be followed strictly in order to repair intestinal damage. Consuming even the smallest amount of gluten may cause severe abdominal symptoms or undo all the progress that has been made.
Managing celiac disease can be frustrating but by adhering to a gluten-free diet, it will eventually become second nature and just another part of life.