Celiac disease is an immune disease in which people can’t eat gluten because it will damage their small intestine. If you have celiac disease and eat foods with gluten, your immune system responds by damaging the small intestine. Gluten is a natural protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. It may also be in other products like vitamins and supplements, hair and skin products, toothpastes, and lip balm.
When you have this disease and you eat food with gluten in it. Because, the gluten triggers an immune response that is not normal. This damages the inside of your small intestine so that it can’t do a good job of absorbing nutrients from your food. The intestinal damage causes signs such as diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, bloating and anemia. However, it can also lead to serious complications.
There’s no cure for celiac disease — but for most people, following a strict gluten-free diet can help manage symptoms and promote intestinal healing.
What causes celiac disease?
Doctors don’t really know what causes the disease but a combination of genetics and the environment appear to play a part. It’s an autoimmune condition. This is where the immune system – the body’s defense against infection mistakenly attacks healthy tissue.
In celiac disease, the immune system mistakes substances found inside gluten as a threat to the body and attacks them. This damages the surface of the small bowel (intestines), disrupting the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food. You’re more likely to have these genes and get celiac disease if a close family member has the disease.
Who is more likely to develop the disease?
Although celiac disease affects children and adults in all parts of the world, the disease is more common in Caucasians and more often diagnosed in females. You are more likely to develop celiac disease if someone in your family has the disease. Celiac disease also is more common among people with certain other diseases, such as Down syndrome , Turner syndrome , and type 1 diabetes.
What are the symptoms?
Most people with celiac disease have one or more symptoms. However, some people with the disease may not have symptoms or feel sick. Sometimes health issues such as surgery, a pregnancy, childbirth, bacterial gastroenteritis , a viral infection, or severe mental stress can trigger celiac disease symptoms. Eating foods containing gluten can trigger a range of gut-related symptoms, such as:
- diarrhoea, which may smell particularly unpleasant
- abdominal pain
- bloating and flatulence (passing wind)
Celiac disease can also cause a number of more general symptoms, including:
- weak brittle bones
- fatigue as a result of malnutrition (not getting enough nutrients from food)
- joint pain
- unexpected weight loss
- bleeding gum
- an itchy rash (dermatitis herpetiformis)
- disorders that affect co-ordination, balance and speech
- missed menstrual periods
- mouth problems such a canker sores or dry mouth
Children with the disease may not grow at the expected rate and may have delayed puberty.
How is celiac disease diagnosed?
Celiac disease can be hard to diagnose because some of the symptoms are like symptoms of other diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and lactose intolerance. Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and do a physical examination. You may have blood tests to see if you have certain antibodies that could mean you have the disease.
To make sure you have the disease, you will probably have an endoscopy. In this test, a doctor uses a thin, lighted tube to look at the inside of your small intestine. Your doctor can also take small samples of tissue to be tested in a lab. This is called a biopsy.
After your celiac disease diagnosis, your doctor may do more tests, such as blood tests to check for anemia. You may also have a bone density examination. These tests will help your doctor find out if you have other problems, such as osteoporosis, that can arise when you have celiac disease.
How do doctors treat celiac disease?
There’s no cure for celiac disease, but switching to a gluten-free diet should help control symptoms. It will also prevent the long-term consequences of the condition. Within 2 weeks after starting a gluten-free eating plan, most people find that their symptoms start to get better.
Your doctor may refer you to a dietitian who specializes in treating people with the disease. The dietitian will teach you how to avoid gluten while following a healthy diet.
For most people, following a gluten-free diet will heal damage in the small intestine and prevent more damage. The small intestine usually heals in 3 to 6 months in children. Complete healing can take several years in adults. Once the intestine heals, the villi, which were damaged by the disease, regrow and will absorb nutrients from food into the bloodstream normally.
If you have celiac disease, ask a pharmacist about ingredients in
- herbal and nutritional supplements
- prescription and over-the-counter medicines
- vitamin and mineral supplements
Products that may contain gluten include:
- children’s modeling dough, such as Play-Doh
- modified food starch
- preservatives and food stabilizers
- lipstick, lip gloss, and lip balm
- skin and hair products
- toothpaste and mouthwash
- envelope and stamp glue
- communion wafers
What should I eat if I have celiac disease?
Foods such as meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, rice, and potatoes without additives or seasonings do not contain gluten and are part of a well-balanced diet. You can eat gluten-free types of bread, pasta, and other foods that are now easier to find in stores, restaurants, and at special food companies. You also can eat potato, rice, soy, amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, or bean flour instead of wheat flour.