Celiac disease, also known as gluten-sensitive enteropathy, sprue, or celiac sprue, is a disease in which the immune system triggers a defense response within the small intestine when one consumes gluten. Over time, celiac disease causes intestinal damage, which in turn can lead to malabsorption of nutrients and cause life-threatening side effects. In children, this disease negatively impacts growth and development.
The exact cause of celiac disease remains unknown. The disease is thought to be genetic, and there have been many documented cases in which the disease becomes active after surgery, emotional distress, pregnancy, and viral infections. Celiac disease can develop at any age.
Some risk factors of celiac disease are:
A family member with celiac disease
Type I diabetes
Signs and symptoms of celiac disease vary between children and adults. Common symptoms include:
Unexplained weight loss
Diarrhea or constipation
Abdominal bloating and pain
Nausea and vomiting
Symptoms more common in adults include:
Reduced splenic function
Dermatitis including itchiness, rashes, and blisters
Osteoporosis and/or osteomalacia
Numbness or tingling sensation in the extremities
Balance and coordination impairment
Symptoms more common in children include:
Foul-smelling stool that is pale in color
Failure to thrive
Damaged tooth enamel
Delayed puberty and growth
Neurological disorders (such as ADHD, seizures, poor muscle coordination)
Your physician may perform one or more of the following to diagnose celiac disease:
Blood tests: These exams look for antibodies in the blood that may indicate gluten sensitivity.
Genetic testing: These exams look for specific antigens that would rule out the presence of celiac disease.
Skin biopsy: If the skin is showing signs of dermatitis, your physician may take a sample for lab analysis.
Endoscopy: This procedure involves a thin tube fitted with a camera entering through the throat and into the digestive tract until it can capture a live image of the small intestine. This procedure will allow the physician to determine if there is any damage to the intestinal lining, particularly the villi which are hairlike structures that function to absorb nutrients.
Although at-home celiac disease blood testing kits exist, there is no empirical data to support their accuracy. It is always important to obtain a diagnosis from a licensed medical professional, especially when drastically altering your diet and lifestyle, which is a process that should be carried out with the guidance of a physician.
Currently, there is no cure for celiac disease. The disease can be managed with a strict gluten-free diet, a consistent vitamin and supplement regimen, steroids to control inflammatory immune responses, regular tests to keep track of intestinal healing, and medications to treat dermatitis.
Although exact diet specification varies from person to person, some foods that are generally safe to eat include:
Wines, ciders, and spirits
Some items to avoid that may not seem obvious on the surface include:
Certain lipstick products
Certain toothpaste and mouthwashes
Envelope and stamp glue
Certain herbs and supplements
It is always important to thoroughly read ingredient labels.
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