What is celiac disease?
Celiac disease is a problem some people have with foods that contain gluten. Gluten is a kind of protein found in foods like bread, crackers, and pasta. With celiac disease, your immune system attacks the gluten and harms your small intestine when you eat these kinds of foods. This makes it hard for your body to absorb nutrients that keep you healthy.
Gluten comes from grains like wheat, barley, rye, and triticale. It’s important to get treatment, because celiac disease can lead to iron deficiency anemia and osteoporosis. It can also raise your risk of lymphoma.
Celiac disease can slow growth and weaken bones in children. If it is not treated, your child can get very sick. Call a doctor if your child is losing a lot of weight, has diarrhea, or feels weak and tired for many days for no reason.
Celiac disease has numerous symptoms. According to some experts, there are about 300 possible symptoms of the disease.
Different people will experience the disease in different ways because the symptoms vary greatly from one person to the next.
Symptoms for Children
Infants and children with celiac disease tend to have digestive problems. Common symptoms for infants and children include:
- Growth problems
- Decreased appetite and failure to gain weight
- Chronic diarrhea, which can be bloody
- Chronic constipation
- Abdominal bloating and pain
Children may also show signs of malnourishment. That’s because the disease prevents the body from absorbing essential nutrients. The stomach may expand, while the thighs become thin and the buttocks flat.
For teens with celiac disease, symptoms may not occur until they are triggered by something stressful, such as:
- Leaving home for college
- Suffering an injury or illness
Common symptoms for teenagers include:
- Delayed puberty
- Growth problems
- Abdominal pain and bloating
- Weight loss
- Dermatitis herpetiformis (itchy skin rash that looks like eczema or poison ivy)
- Mouth sores
Symptoms for Adults
In adults with celiac disease, the inability of the body to absorb a sufficient amount of calcium to keep bones strong often leads to osteoporosis.
Adults often have fewer gastrointestinal symptoms of celiac disease. Diarrhea, for example, affects only one-third of adults with the disease.
Common symptoms for adults include:
- Iron deficiency
- Bone or joint pain
- Depression or anxiety
- Bone loss or osteoporosis
- Tingling numbness in hands and feet
- Erratic menstrual periods
- Dermatitis herpetiformis
- Mouth sores
Celiac disease triggers the immune system to produce certain antibodies. If celiac disease is suspected, your doctor will order certain blood tests to detect and measure specific antibodies.
- IgAtTG: Immunoglobulin A (IgA) anti-tissue transglutaminase (tTG) antibody
- IgAEMA: Immunoglobulin A (IgA) antiendomysial antibody (EMA)
If your test results are positive, your doctor may perform a biopsy of the small intestine to confirm a diagnosis of celiac disease.
A biopsy taken during an upper gastrointestinal endoscopy may be done to confirm celiac disease after antibody tests are positive. Sometimes a biopsy detects celiac disease when a person is being tested for another condition.
If the biopsy shows signs of celiac disease (such as abnormal villi and inflammation in the small intestine), a gluten-free diet will be recommended. If the symptoms go away on the gluten-free diet and antibody tests are normal, a diagnosis of celiac disease is confirmed.
Other tests may be done when celiac disease is suspected. These tests may include:
- Blood tests, such as a complete blood count (CBC), to test for anemia. Other blood tests that may be done include:
- A bone density test. This may be done to see if you have problems such asosteomalacia (known as rickets in children) or osteoporosis, which may develop in some people with celiac disease.
If a diagnosis of celiac disease is suspected but symptoms don’t improve with a gluten-free diet, further testing for other conditions and diseases, such as Crohn’s disease or cystic fibrosis, may be needed.
Prepare your child for exams and tests that are needed to diagnose suspected celiac disease. Doing so will help your child understand what to expect and can help reduce fears.
Blood tests to measure antibodies, such as immunoglobulin A anti-tissue transglutaminase (IgAtTG) or the immunoglobulin A antiendomysial antibody (IgAEMA), can be useful screening tools for people who are at increased risk for having celiac disease. This includes people with a family history of celiac disease or those who have type 1 diabetes, Down syndrome, dermatitis herpetiformis, anautoimmune disease, unexplained anemia, abnormal liver function tests not caused by another disease, or unexplained osteoporosis. Talk to your doctor if you think you or your child should be screened for celiac disease.
Celiac Disease – Home Treatment
The following strategies may help you stay with your gluten-free diet:
- Seek guidance from a registered dietitian, other health professionals, and celiac disease support groups for ways to incorporate gluten-free foods. In the beginning, it may be helpful to keep a food diary until you are more familiar with planning meals without gluten.
- Be aware of foods that contain hidden gluten. Read labels of prepared or processed food carefully. For example, “hydrolyzed vegetable protein” may come from wheat and contain gluten.
- Ask your dietitian or doctor how to prevent contamination of gluten-free foods in your home. It is best to keep gluten-free foods in a separate cupboard. Make sure your kitchen counters, utensils, and appliances are clean and free of gluten before you use them. It is also best to use a separate toaster for gluten-free breads.
- When eating out, let your server know you have special dietary needs.
- Check your (or your child’s) weight weekly to ensure that enough nutrients are being absorbed.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables to avoid constipation. If necessary, use gluten-free commercial fiber preparations, such as those that contain rice bran.
Input from: WebMD