Signs of celiac disease vary from person to person and may include digestive symptoms such as:
Some people remain asymptomatic and do not show any signs of the disease. However, even asymptomatic celiac disease will continue to damage the intestinal cells, causing malabsorption and nutrition deficiencies in the long run.
According to National Health Council, nearly 141 million people in the United States have celiac disease and most of them are unaware of their condition.
What are other symptoms of celiac disease?
Celiac disease is much more than a digestive issue and in long run can cause:
- Anemia (iron deficiency anemia)
- Bone disease
- Joint pain
- Muscle cramps
- Nose bleeds
- Increased liver enzymes
- Neurological issues
- Skin rash (dermatitis herpetiformis)
- Hair loss
- Reproductive disorders
- Missed periods
- Mouth ulcers
- Learning difficulties
Children with celiac disease may show symptoms such as:
What causes celiac disease?
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder, meaning your immune system attacks healthy cells in your body instead of germs or viruses. The exact cause of celiac disease is unknown, but risk factors may include:
If you have a first-degree relative (mother, father, brother, sister, son, or daughter) with celiac disease, you have a 10% chance of developing it. If you have an identical twin who has celiac disease, you have a 75% risk of developing it as well.
Environmental factors, such as certain viral infections, may cause alterations in the small intestine in people with these genes. Gluten-containing foods, such as wheat, barley, rye, and oats, can cause an abnormal immune system response. This reaction may lead to digestion and nutrition absorption issues over time.
Other health conditions
- Autoimmune diseases
- Chromosomal disorders
- Down’s syndrome
- Turner syndrome
- Neurological disorder
It is unknown if these health issues directly increase your likelihood of having celiac disease or whether both celiac disease and health issues are caused by the same underlying reason.
How is celiac disease diagnosed?
Celiac disease can be difficult to diagnose due to its nonspecific symptoms and slow onset. Diagnosis is confirmed based on three major factors:
- Medical history: Your doctor will take note of your symptoms and family history. Any unexplained deficits in the blood, such as low iron or folate levels (which cause anemia), may alert your clinician to the likelihood of an absorption issue. A referral to a gastroenterologist (a specialist who specializes in digestive system diseases) may be made.
- Blood tests: Serology tests check for gluten antibodies, which are produced during an immunological response. Genetic screenings can help detect faulty genes that indicate celiac disease.
- Biopsy: Celiac disease often produces small intestine abnormalities that can only be observed with endoscopy and biopsy. Endoscopy is done to look at the digestive tract using a thin flexible tube with a camera. With capsule endoscopy, a small wireless camera is used in to search for intestinal damage and a small sample of intestinal tissue may be taken which is later sent for biopsy. If dermatitis herpetiformis is observed, skin tissue is obtained for biopsy.
On average, celiac disease is diagnosed at around age 40. However, it can develop at any age, including early childhood.
What are the treatment options for celiac disease?
Treatment for celiac disease involves following a gluten-free diet. Gluten consumption, even in small amounts, can trigger symptoms.
Gluten-free diets involve:
- Avoiding all foods containing wheat, barley, rye, triticale (a wheat-rye cross), or oats
- Avoiding beer unless it is gluten-free
- Eating rice, corn, millet, and buckwheat-based foods
You may be recommended to refrain from consuming milk or milk products until your gut recovers and then gradually reintroduce them. Other treatments with vitamin, iron, and calcium supplements could be required if you have nutritional deficiencies.
Nutritional advice from a certified dietitian who is knowledgeable about celiac disease can help you develop a gluten-free diet that is both practical and nutritious.
Symptoms & Causes of Celiac Disease. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/celiac-disease/symptoms-causes
Symptoms of Celiac Disease. https://celiac.org/about-celiac-disease/symptoms-of-celiac-disease/
Celiac Disease. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/14240-celiac-disease
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