Celiac Disease

  • Medical Author:
    Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM

    Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

  • Medical Editor: Bhupinder Anand, MD
Celiac Disease Pictures Slideshow
Cells lining the small intestine

Celiac Disease Symptoms and Signs

Celiac disease is an uncommon disease in which your immune system attacks the cells lining the small intestine. Signs and symptoms of celiac disease may include:

  • diarrhea,
  • bloating,
  • gas (flatulence, farting),
  • swollen ankles (edema),
  • anemia,
  • fatigue,
  • vitamin K deficiency, and
  • excessive bruising and bleeding.

Quick GuideA Visual Guide to Celiac Disease

A Visual Guide to Celiac Disease

Celiac disease facts

  • In people with celiac disease, inflammation occurs in the small intestinal mucosa when it is exposed to gluten in the diet.
  • Celiac disease is thought to be an autoimmune disorder and may have a familial or genetic component.
  • The symptoms usually involve the digestive system and cause:
  • However, there is a wide spectrum of symptoms that may occur.
  • Because the intestine becomes inflamed, it may also lose its ability to absorb nutrients from the diet, leading to other associated illnesses.
  • Treatment of celiac disease is following a strict gluten free diet.
  • Celiac disease is also known by other names including celiac sprue, non-tropical sprue, and gluten enteropathy.

What causes celiac disease?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. In some people who are exposed to gluten in their diet, an enzyme called tissue transglutaminase changes the gluten into a chemical that causes an immune response, leading to inflammation of the lining of the small intestine. The normal villi that make up the lining of the intestine are blunted and destroyed, preventing the normal absorption of nutrients from the diet.

This malabsorption of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients may lead to damage to other organs in the body, such as the liver, bone, and brain' that depend on those nutrients to function normally. In children, the lack of effective nutrition because of malnutrition can lead to abnormal growth and development.

There seems to be a genetic predisposition to developing celiac disease, however not all people with a family history of celiac disease develop the condition. There is another reason, yet unknown, why the autoimmune response occurs.

In addition to family history, celiac disease seems to be more common in people with type 1 diabetes, microscopic colitis, Sjögren's syndrome and autoimmune thyroid disease.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/12/2016

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