Celiac disease is a lifelong, digestive disorder affecting children and adults. Essentially, every time a person with celiac consumes gluten (which is found in wheat, barley, rye and cross-contaminated oats) the body attacks itself.
Celiac disease is an inherited autoimmune disorder. When people with celiac eat foods containing gluten, their immune system responds by attacking the villi in the small intestine. When the villi become damaged, the body is unable to absorb nutrients into the bloodstream, which can lead to malnutrition and a host of other serious problems.
Celiac disease is not a food allergy; rather it is an autoimmune disease. There are currently no drugs to treat celiac disease (though some are being developed) and people with celiac do not outgrow it. But celiacs can lead normal, healthy lives by following a strict gluten-free diet.
Celiac disease affects people differently. There are hundreds of signs and symptoms of celiac disease, yet many people with celiac disease have no symptoms at all. Some people develop celiac disease as children, others as adults.
Children tend to have the more classic signs of celiac disease, including growth problems, failure to thrive, chronic diarrhea/constipation, recurring abdominal bloating and pain, fatigue and irritability.
A blood test can screen for the presence of specific antibodies. A biopsy of the intestine (before beginning a gluten free diet) is needed to make a final diagnosis.
According to the University of Chicago, symptoms of celiac disease may include one or more of the following:
- Recurring abdominal bloating and pain
- Chronic diarrhea/constipation
- Weight loss
- Pale, foul-smelling stool
- Iron-deficiency anemia that does not respond to iron therapy
- Failure to thrive or short stature
- Delayed puberty
- Pain in the joints
- Tingling numbness in the legs
- Pale sores inside the mouth
- A skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis (DH)
- Tooth discoloration or loss of enamel
- Unexplained infertility, recurrent miscarriage
- Osteopenia (mild) or osteoporosis (more serious bone density problem)
Beyond Celiac, beyondceliac.org
Celiac Disease Foundation, celiac.org
Gluten Intolerance Group of North America, gluten.org
The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, cureceliacdisease.org