What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is a disease in which the small intestine is hypersensitive to gluten, leading to difficulty in digesting food. An immune reaction to eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye.
Celiac disease is hereditary, meaning that it runs in families. People with a first-degree relative with celiac disease (parent, child, sibling) have a 1 in 10 risk of developing celiac disease.
Celiac disease can develop at any age after people start eating foods or medicines that contain gluten. Left untreated, celiac disease can lead to additional serious health problems.
Celiac Disease Symptoms
- Anemia, usually resulting from iron deficiency
- Loss of bone density (osteoporosis) or softening of bone (osteomalacia)
- Itchy, blistery skin rash (dermatitis herpetiformis)
- Damage to dental enamel
- Mouth ulcers
- Headaches and fatigue
- Nervous system injury, including numbness and tingling in the feet and hands, possible problems with balance, and cognitive impairment
- Joint pain
- Reduced functioning of the spleen (hyposplenism)
- Acid reflux and heartburn
In children under 2 years old, typical signs and symptoms of celiac disease include:
- Chronic diarrhea
- Swollen belly
- Failure to thrive
- Poor appetite
- Muscle wasting – The main reason for muscle wasting is a lack of physical activity.
Older children may experience:
- Weight loss
- Short stature
- Delayed puberty
- Neurological symptoms, including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities, headaches, lack of muscle coordination and seizures
Untreated, celiac disease can cause:
- Loss of calcium and bone density
- Infertility and miscarriage
- Lactose intolerance
- Neurological problems
Doctors may order two blood tests to help diagnose celiac disease.
- Serology testing looks for antibodies in your blood. Elevated levels of certain antibody proteins indicate an immune reaction to gluten.
- Genetic testing for human leukocyte antigens – The HLA complex helps the immune system distinguish the body’s own proteins from proteins made by foreign invaders such as viruses and bacteria. (HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8) can be used to rule out celiac disease.
A strict, lifelong gluten-free diet is the only way to manage celiac disease. In addition to wheat, foods that contain gluten include:
- Graham flour
- Spelt (a form of wheat)
If you think you may have Celiac Disease you can visit: celiac.org for a symptoms checklist.