What is celiac disease?
Celiac disease occurs when your body’s immune system reacts to a protein, called gluten, contained in wheat and other common dietary grains.
This immune response can damage your small intestinal lining, resulting in a wide range of symptoms, and preventing your digestive system from absorbing vital nutrients.
Celiac disease is common, can be difficult to detect, and results from a genetic predisposition plus an unknown trigger, likely in the environment. Onset is typically in the first three decades of life, but it can also appear later. Celiac disease is associated with other autoimmune diseases, such as diabetes or thyroid inflammation, and very rarely with small intestinal lymphoma or other cancers.
What are the symptoms of celiac disease?
Celiac disease symptoms vary greatly between adults and children. Adults with celiac disease most often experience:
In addition to these standard symptoms, more than half of adults with celiac disease have one or more symptoms not related to the digestive tract. These can include:
- Anemia from iron deficiency
- Itchy, blistering skin rashes
- Damage to teeth or ulcers in the mouth
Children’s celiac disease symptoms include:
- Weight loss
- Poor appetite
- Delayed puberty in adolescents
In children under the age of 2, you may notice signs of muscle wasting or a swollen belly.
If your doctor suspect you have celiac disease, she or he may order a special blood test to confirm the diagnosis. Removing gluten from your diet, should help your small intestine begin to heal. The healing process can take several months. However, many people begin to feel better on the celiac diet in a matter of days.
After eliminating gluten from their diet, some people with celiac disease will have bouts of diarrhea or abdominal pain if they accidentally eat gluten, although not everyone reacts this way. It’s important to recognize that, if you have celiac disease, gluten is harmful—even if it doesn’t immediately cause symptoms.
Celiac Disease: The Celiac Diet
While no cure for celiac disease exists, in most people eliminating gluten from your diet will eliminate symptoms and permit intestinal healing.
Avoiding gluten means eliminating the following from your diet:
- Occasionally other grains
Changing your eating habits is not easy, but almost every celiac patient achieves it. Our dieticians and physicians will advise you regarding strategies to adapt.
There are also numerous on-line resources for shopping for gluten free foods and learning more about celiac disease.
What is gluten sensitivity?
Some people experience digestive symptoms when they ingest gluten, yet their small intestines do not develop damage. Such patients are termed gluten sensitive or gluten intolerant. Unlike true celiac disease, this is not an immune dysregulation, and patients do not develop nutrient malabsorption, or celiac-related autoimmune disease. By definition, in these cases stopping gluten resolves the symptoms.