What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac Disease, also known as Celiac Sprue, is a disorder of the small intestine that results from dietary exposure to gluten. It is caused by an overreaction of the body to gluten. This overreaction causes damage to the villi (the finger-like protrusions that help your gut absorb food) in the small intestine.
Celiac Disease is much more common in people of Northern European descent. It is most often diagnosed between 6 months and 2 years of age and it is a lifelong gluten intolerance.
Gluten is the protein that gives dough its elasticity. The word “gluten” actually means “glue” in Latin.
What Foods Have Gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in certain grains such as wheat, barley, triticale, rye and contaminated oats.
Common Celiac Disease symptoms:
• Failure to thrive or weight loss
• Anorexia (loss of appetite)
• Foul smelling stools
• Abdominal pain
In adults, Celiac Disease symptoms are not always gastrointestinal.
Other symptoms of Celiac Disease include:
• Bone loss
• Short stature
Since there is damage to the small intestine, vitamin and mineral deficiencies can develop and these may cause the following symptoms over time:
• Easy bruising
• Depression or anxiety
• Hair loss
• Skin rashes
• Mouth ulcers
• Muscle cramps
• Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
• Pain in joints
• Tooth discoloration
Lactose intolerance may also occur. (this usually goes away after treatment for the gluten intolerance)
Evaluating for Celiac Disease:
An evaluation with your doctor or gastroenterologist can be very helpful in diagnosing Celiac Disease. They will need to know the following information, among other things:
1. What are the symptoms that you are having?
2. When did the symptoms first appear?
3. How long have the symptoms been present?
4. What makes the symptoms worse?
5. What makes the symptoms better?
6. Have you tried to exclude gluten from your diet?
7. Is there a family history of celiac disease?
Testing for Celiac Disease:
Laboratory tests for diagnosis of Celiac Disease include:
• Antigliadin antibodies
• Antiendomysial antibodies
• Immunoglobulin A
• Tissue Translgutaminase
The gold standard test for diagnosing celiac disease is an intestinal biopsy. This will only be positive if you are still eating gluten. Once gluten has been excluded from the diet, the intestines go back to a normal appearance and therefore the biopsy is not helpful.
Treatment for Celiac Disease:
The good news is that once Celiac Disease is diagnosed, going gluten free is essentially curative. The bad news is that this treatment requires a lifelong strict exclusion of gluten.
Find out more about maintaining a healthy lifestyle while living with Celiac Disease, by clicking here.
You can also check this previous blogpost Living with Gluten Allergy and Gluten Intolerance for some great info!