Celiac Disease

What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is a digestive disease that interferes with absorption of nutrients from food and damages the small intestine. People who have celiac disease are intolerant gluten, a protein in wheat, rye, and barley.

When people with celiac disease eat foods that containing gluten, their immune system responds by damaging or destroying villi - the tiny, fingerlike protrusions lining the small intestine. Villi normally allow nutrients from food to be absorbed through the walls of the small intestine into the bloodstream. Without healthy villi, a person becomes malnourished, no matter how much food one eats.

What are the Symptoms of Celiac Disease?
Each person may experience different symptoms. Symptoms may occur in the digestive system or in other parts of the body. Digestive symptoms are more common in infants and young children and may include:

  • abdominal bloating and pain
  • chronic diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • constipation
  • pale, foul-smelling, or fatty stool
  • weight loss

Adults are less likely to have digestive symptoms and may instead have one or more of the following:

  • unexplained iron-deficiency anemia
  • fatigue
  • bone or joint pain
  • arthritis
  • bone loss or osteoporosis
  • depression or anxiety
  • tingling numbness in the hands and feet
  • seizures
  • missed menstrual periods
  • infertility or recurrent miscarriage
  • canker sores inside the mouth
  • an itchy skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis

How is Celiac Disease Diagnosed?
Because the symptoms of celiac disease can resemble the symptoms of other conditions, like Crohn's disease or irritable bowel syndrome, our physicians will give you a physical exam and ask questions about your medical history. We may also order a blood test, especially once celiac disease is suspected. Other tests may be needed to confirm the disease, including an upper endoscopy and a biopsy of your small intestine.

How is Celiac Disease Treated?
Currently, the only treatment for celiac disease is a gluten-free diet. For most people, following this diet will stop symptoms, heal existing intestinal damage, and prevent further damage. Improvement begins within days of starting the diet. The small intestine usually heals in 3 to 6 months in children but may take several years in adults. A healed intestine means a person now has villi that can absorb nutrients from food into the bloodstream.

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