Celiac Disease (Celiac Sprue) FAQs
Reviewed by Jay W. Marks, MD
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Q:Celiac disease is caused by an allergic reaction to what?
A:Celiac disease is caused by an allergic reaction to gluten. Celiac disease is a disease of the small intestine in which damage to the lining of the small intestine leads to the malabsorption of minerals and nutrients. The destruction of the inner lining of the small intestine in celiac disease is caused by an immunological (allergic) reaction to gluten, a family of proteins found in wheat, barley, rye, and oats.
Q:With celiac disease, malabsorption means what?
A:With celiac disease, malabsorption means poor absorption of food nutrients. Medically speaking, malabsorption refers to poor intestinal absorption of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals from the intestinal tract into the blood stream. Malabsorption can occur from diseases that injure the bowels, such as Crohn's disease, Whipple's disease, and celiac disease, as well as other diseases and conditions such as HIV, diseases of the pancreas such as cystic fibrosis, surgical removal of large portions of the small bowel, and the presence of intestinal worms.
Q:There are other diseases associated with celiac disease. True or False?
A:True. About 10% of individuals with celiac disease also have dermatitis herpetiformis. Dermatitis herpetiformis is a disease of the skin that is characterized by an itchy rash on the extremities, buttocks, neck, trunk, and scalp.
Q:Gluten found in what may also produce an allergic reaction?
A:Gluten found in medicines may also produce an allergic reaction. Gluten is found mainly in foods but may also be found in everyday products such as prescription and nonprescription medicines, vitamins, some kinds of lipstick, and lip balms.
Q:People with celiac disease should completely avoid what?
A:People with celiac disease should completely avoid beer, pasta and crackers. Beer contains wheat! Who knew? Unfortunately for fans of the six-pack, most beers are made with barley malt. While there are some gluten-free beers, it's best to check with your doctor or dietitian about whether these are safe for you.
Q:What is true about celiac disease?
A:Celiac disease is genetic. There is evidence that celiac disease is partially genetic (inherited), meaning it runs in families. Once thought of as a rare childhood illness, celiac disease is now known to be a common genetic disorder.
Q:Severe emotional stress can trigger celiac disease. True or False?
A:True. In some cases, celiac disease seems to be triggered by, or becomes active for the first time, after surgery, pregnancy, childbirth, viral infection, or severe emotional stress. It is unclear how these stresses may be linked to celiac disease. The association may be coincidence.
Q:Abdominal distention is a key symptom of celiac disease. Abdominal distention means what?
A:Abdominal distention means that the abdomen is swollen. Abdominal distention (abdominal swelling) is a key symptom of celiac disease primarily in infants. Other symptoms include:
Q:There is no cure for celiac disease. True or False?
True. There is no cure for celiac disease. The treatment of celiac disease is a gluten-free diet. Patients with celiac disease vary in their tolerance to gluten. Some patients can ingest small amounts of gluten without developing symptoms, while others experience massive diarrhea with only minute amounts of gluten.
Q:Certain conditions cause a person to fail to respond to a gluten-free diet. True or False?
A:True. Failure to respond to a gluten-free diet may occur for several reasons:
Q:How is celiac disease diagnosed?
A:Celiac disease is diagnosed by intestinal biopsy, blood tests, and the presence of dermatitis herpetiformis. Celiac disease has long been underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed. As doctors become more aware of the many varied symptoms of the disease and reliable blood tests become more available, diagnosis rates are increasing.
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