Search for Health Information You Need

Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment of Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is a negative reaction of a patient’s body to gluten. The immune system starts attacking the small intestine lining and destroying the villi when the patient ingests foods with gluten. Villi are small projections that are found on the lining of the small intestine. If celiac disease goes untreated, it will result in the patient being unable to absorb the nutrients from the food they eat. Celiac disease is classified as an auto immune disease. Wheat, barley and rye contain gluten, which is a type of protein.

Celiac disease is sometimes also referred to as celiac sprue, endemic sprue, gluten enteropathy or non-tropical sprue. It is one of the three possible causes of gluten intolerance and the only one from those three that causes lasting harm to the tissues of the small intestine.

Fast Facts about Celiac Disease

  • Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease where a patient cannot tolerate gluten
  • Celiac disease causes damage to the small intestine, which in turn leads to the body getting less nutrition as it cannot be absorbed efficiently through the small intestine
  • The treatment for this disease is for the patient to have a gluten free diet
  • There is no way to prevent this disease from occurring at this time

Causes of Celiac Disease

Research is still ongoing, as to the causes of celiac disease but it has been ascertained that it is, at least in part, genetic.

Risk Factors for Celiac Disease

Both children and adults can develop celiac disease. It is hereditary, therefore, if a family member has been diagnosed with this disease there is a higher risk that another family member might develop celiac disease at some point in their life.

Symptoms of Celiac Disease

Gas, diarrhea and stomach pain are the common symptoms of celiac disease. Patients will often feel tired and can develop an itchy rash that also includes blisters. Weight loss and changes in mood can sometimes be observed. In children slowing of growth may be seen. Because the condition impairs the ability of the intestine to absorb nutrients, vitamins and minerals, if left untreated, it can also lead to anemia, type 1 diabetes, osteoporosis, infertility and miscarriage.

Not everyone who has celiac disease will experience symptoms. Many people can go for a number of years without displaying signs of the disease. Sometimes symptoms can be confused with other diseases so that celiac disease remains undetected in a patient.

Diagnosing Celiac Disease

Diagnosis can be difficult due to the fact that many of the symptoms of celiac disease are similar to other problems and diseases. This results in celiac disease not being detected sometimes for a number of years. The doctor will take a blood test if they suspect that the patient has this problem. If the blood test is positive for celiac disease then the doctor might take a biopsy of the small intestine. It is important for the patient to be on a regular diet that includes gluten when taking the blood test or the results will not be accurate. Sometimes in order to get the tests done and get accurate results the patient is put on a regular diet with foods containing gluten.

Treatment Options for Celiac Disease

Treatment for celiac disease will include putting the patient on a gluten free diet. Gluten free flour is available for patients with celiac disease. The patient should avoid all wheat, barley and rye products and foods that may contain gluten. The small intestine will then heal naturally. Any underlying diseases should also be treated. If malnutrition is present, the patient will need a good nutritious diet and vitamin supplements.

Once celiac disease is treated the small intestine will heal in a number of weeks. Symptoms will gradually disappear and the patient will cease to have any more problems. They just have to remember to avoid all foods containing gluten. These are usually wheat products but also include barley and rye.

Prevention of Celiac Disease

At this time there is no prevention for celiac disease.

Coping with Celiac Disease

A patient with celiac disease will need to eat a gluten free diet. They can get help for this from a professional dietitian, who will advise them what foods to avoid and which foods can act as substitutes for wheat products. Patients suffering from celiac disease can also experience weak, brittle bones and should have regular visits to the doctor. Patients now have the advantage of many gluten free products. Gluten free flour and even bread and pasta are now available in the stores.

However, gluten can be also found in many beverages. Here you can find a list of gluten-free alcoholic beverages and a review of gluten-free soft-drinks. In addition, some non-food products such as toothpaste or the glue on postage stamps may contain gluten as an ingredient.

If celiac disease is not taken care of there can be serious consequences for the patient. They may develop serious problems with brittle and weakened bones which can result in increased risk of fractures for the patient. Malnutrition can occur which will effect the patient’s overall health. Lactose intolerance can also occur. This is when a patient cannot digest the lactose in milk and will experience digestive problems like diarrhea. Untreated celiac disease can also lead to an increased risk of cancer.

One potential, but rare, complication of celiac disease is lymphoma of the small intestine, which may appear as a worsening of the disease despite adherence to the gluten-free diet.

Sometimes support groups are helpful to patient’s suffering from this disease. They can discuss the problem with others who have the same disease. These people can advise the patient about different stores that sell gluten free foods. Patients with this disease can also get information about their problem online.

Where to Find More Information and Support:
Celiac Disease Foundation
Coeliac Australia
Canadian Celiac Association