What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is a digestive disorder that occurs in reaction to gluten, a protein found in rye, barley, wheat, and hundreds of foods made with these grains. The body's immune system reacts to the gluten and causes damage to the intestine. Celiac disease, also known as celiac sprue or gluten-sensitive enteropathy, is fairly common. Those who are diagnosed with celiac disease need to follow a gluten-free diet.
Celiac Symptoms: Digestive
Symptoms of celiac disease can vary from mild to severe. Some people have no symptoms, although they still are developing intestinal damage. Celiac disease is sometimes misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's Disease, or gastric ulcers. Digestive symptoms may include:
Celiac Symptoms: Weight Loss
Many adults with celiac disease do not have digestive symptoms at all. But the failure to absorb nutrients may lead to other problems, including weight loss and malnutrition. Signs and symptoms related to weight loss or malnutrition can include:
Celiac Symptoms: Skin Rash
For some people, celiac disease causes an itchy, blistering rash known as dermatitis herpetiformis. It may begin with an intense burning sensation around the elbows, knees, scalp, buttocks, and back. Clusters of red, itchy bumps form and then scab over. It often first occurs in the teenage years and is more common among men than women. The rash usually clears with a gluten-free diet, but can also be treated with medication.
Celiac Symptoms: Mood and Memory
Some people with celiac experience depression, irritability, poor memory, and trouble concentrating. The strain of having a chronic disease can contribute to problems with mood and memory, particularly when there is chronic pain or fatigue related to anemia.
Warning Signs in Children
Celiac symptoms may start in childhood, even in infants when parents introduce foods that contain gluten. Symptoms can include vomiting, bloating, pain, diarrhea, and irritability. The disease can lead to slowed growth or even failure to thrive. Children with celiac may have teeth that are pitted, grooved, discolored, or poorly formed. Children with a parent or sibling with celiac disease should be screened.
Foods that Trigger Celiac Disease
Wheat is a staple in many of the countries including India. So many common foods contain enough gluten to increase the risk of celiac disease -- breads, crackers, muffins, pasta, pizza, cakes, and pies. Fried chicken can be very risky because of the breading. Noodles come from wheat. Rye and barley also contain gluten, so bread, barley soup, and even beer can cause problems for those with celiac disease.
Celiac or Wheat Allergy?
Celiac disease and wheat allergy both involve the immune system but the reaction within the body is different. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that causes damage to the lining of the intestine. It is a lifelong disorder. Symptoms of wheat allergy can include a skin rash, wheezing, abdominal pain, or diarrhea. Wheat allergy is often outgrown.
Celiac or Lactose Intolerance?
Celiac disease damages the inner lining of the small intestine, and that may lead to difficulty digesting lactose, a sugar found in milk and milk products. Following a gluten-free diet allows the intestine to recover, and people with celiac disease may discover that they are able to digest lactose once again.
Who Gets Celiac Disease?
Although no one knows exactly why, the following factors place you at greater risk for developing the condition:
Celiac Damage in the Intestine
In people with celiac, the body's immune system is triggered by gluten in food. Antibodies attack the intestinal lining, damaging, flattening, or destroying the tiny hair-like projections (villi) in the small bowel. Damaged villi cannot effectively absorb nutrients through the intestinal wall. As a result, fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals get passed through the stool. Over time, this can lead to malnutrition.
Celiac Disease in Older Men - Late-Onset Celiac Disease
Celiac disease may occur at any age, even in the elderly. While people must have a genetic inclination to it, researchers do not know why some people develop an immune reaction after years of tolerance to gluten. But the average length of time it takes a person with symptoms to be diagnosed with celiac disease is four years.
Diagnostic Methods to Diagnose Celiac Disease:
People with gluten sensitivity have similar symptoms, such as abdominal pain, fatigue, or headaches, but they don't have the intestinal damage or more severe consequences of celiac disease. However, a gluten-free diet will eliminate symptoms.
Dangers of Untreated Celiac Disease
Up to 60% of children and 41% of adults with celiac disease do not have symptoms. With a damaged intestinal lining, they may not be absorbing nutrients properly and are at risk of malnutrition. People with celiac disease have a higher chance of developing osteoporosis, infertility, and some neurological problems.
Celiac Disease and Diabetes
People with type 1 diabetes may be more likely to have celiac disease. Untreated celiac disease can lead to low blood sugar or unhealthy swings in blood glucose levels. Celiac disease can occur alongside other autoimmune disorders, including thyroid disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
Celiac Disease and Osteoporosis
When the small intestine is damaged due to celiac disease, it doesn't absorb nutrients well. People with celiac disease are at risk for osteoporosis, and many of them will need aggressive treatment to address their low bone density. They may benefit from calcium and vitamin D supplements and periodic bone density screening.
Home Care: Gluten-Free
There is no cure for celiac disease, but strictly avoiding gluten will halt the symptoms and allow the intestine to repair itself. In fact, you may feel better within days of removing gluten from your diet. The most common foods to avoid include pasta, baked goods, and cereal, but you must avoid even small amounts of gluten that could be in other products.
Beware of Hidden Gluten in Food Products
A wide variety of foods contain gluten, including processed meat, potato chips, french fries, breaded foods, sauces, and soups. It may be in lipstick or in medicines. You may be able to eat oats if they are not contaminated with wheat, but talk to your doctor first. Wine and distilled alcohol are generally safe, but most beers are not. Beer is made from grains and does not go through a distilling process.
Naturally Gluten-Free Foods
Many other starches can fill your gluten-free diet, including potatoes, rice, corn, soy, flax, and buckwheat. Buckwheat is not a type of wheat at all, but a relative of rhubarb that is gluten-free. It is used for noodles, kasha, porridge, pancakes, and baking. Processed foods, such as corn chips, should be examined carefully to be sure they have not been prepared with a gluten ingredient, such as wheat flour.
Methods of Treating Celiac Disease:
Living With Celiac Disease
Meat, fish, rice, beans, fruits, and vegetables are all fine for people with celiac disease, when prepared without ingredients that contain gluten. Some restaurants now offer gluten-free meals. And many stores carry gluten-free versions of pasta, pizza, and cookies. Strict adherence to the diet can prevent health problems. If you do not see improvement, you may need to look for hidden sources of gluten.
Celiac Disease Research
Studies are underway for new drugs that would enable people with celiac disease to eat gluten safely. These include enzymes, taken as a pill, that break down the gluten. Immunotherapy injections may counteract the underlying immune reaction to gluten. Scientists have even tested hookworms, a parasite that can live in the gut, to see if they will help people with celiac disease.