Medical FAQ Miscellaneous

What is Celiac Disease and its Symptoms?

Celiac disease is a genetically predisposed autoimmune disease that can be inherited from another family member. An immune response is triggered when an affected individual consumes products that contain gluten. Gluten is a substance that is found in foods containing wheat, rye, and barley. Pastas, cereals, and breads contain gluten as do most processed meals. It has been found that some medications also contain wheat and asking a pharmacist can determine whether or not a certain medication is gluten free or not. A person with celiac disease has to be meticulous with reading food labels and know with certainty if gluten is contained in anything that they could possibly ingest. The smallest amount of gluten can trigger a reaction just as well as eating a full meal containing gluten.

When an immune response is triggered in a person with celiac disease, it causes the lining of the small intestines to become inflamed which can cause damage over time. When the lining of the intestines becomes damaged, it can obstruct nutrients from being absorbed (malabsorption) by the intestines which can cause malnutrition. This vicious cycle of malabsorption and malnutrition deprives nutrients to vital organs of the body which in turn causes the body to function improperly.

There are many symptoms associated with celiac disease that can vary widely between individuals. Some of the symptoms associated with celiac disease are

  • diarrhea, abdominal pain, constipation,
  • weight loss, bloating, fatigue,
  • headaches, nosebleeds, hair loss,
  • anemia, mouth ulcers, tooth enamel damage,
  • missed periods, osteoporosis, bone and joint pain,
  • seizures, numbness and tingling,
  • infertility, miscarriage, and damage to various organs and the nervous system.

Some individuals may experience stomach pains after eating due to the inflammation of the intestines. There is a rash that is closely associated with this disease called Dermatitis herpetiformis (DH) that causes itchy and blistered rashes. The rashes usually manifests on the torso, buttocks, knees, elbows, and scalp. A cream can be prescribed by a doctor to control the rash and eating a gluten free diet can eliminate it.

The symptoms of celiac disease can occur at any age. Children and infants affected by celiac disease can have the same symptoms as adults but also have added concerns such as delayed growth, learning or social disability, delayed puberty, failure to thrive, fatty or foul-smelling stools, irritability, and obesity. Leaving celiac disease untreated can also render a person more susceptible to a variety of cancers, including small bowel cancer and lymphomas of the intestines.

Celiac disease can be diagnosed by a doctor through blood testing, biopsy, and endoscopy.  While there is no cure for celiac disease, it can be treated by completely avoiding gluten. Luckily, many supermarkets and restaurants have implemented gluten free foods into their stores and many grocery stores also offer gluten free alternatives. It is important to replenish the missing vitamins and nutrients in the body and supplements may be effective in this case. Detection, eating a gluten free diet, and having a healthy lifestyle are the keys to being as healthy as one can be while living with celiac disease.

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