You could have celiac disease, a hereditary autoimmune disease, and not even know it. The disease can sometimes go undetected and undiagnosed for many individuals. They may mistake symptoms for gluten sensitivity or other gastrointestinal issues, or the disease may not present any indications.
Unlike gluten sensitivity, celiac disease can wreak havoc on one’s small intestines and cause other autoimmune diseases. The disease affects the villi that line the intestine, preventing them from absorbing nutrients and nourishment from food. When nutrients are unable to be absorbed and converted to energy, patients can experience fatigue, nausea, bloating, cramps, vomiting, weight loss, diarrhea, and constipation.
If you are unsure whether you might have celiac disease, check with your nearest relatives. A close relative—sibling, parent, or child—may be your first indication that you, too, could have celiac. Because it is hereditary, celiac disease often strikes several family members, most often women.
Get a Physician’s Opinion First
It’s important to get a physician’s diagnosis to confirm that you have celiac disease. Even more important is to remain on your existing diet and not switch to gluten-free foods before your exam. Doing so can mask the symptoms and make an accurate assessment difficult to determine.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for celiac disease, but there is effective treatment for it. It requires a strict adherence to a gluten-free diet. The difficulty in maintaining such a strict regimen is that even the slightest exposure to small traces of gluten, such as bread crumbs or other gluten-bearing foods, can have dire health consequences. While some people consider following a gluten-free diet as just another fad, for celiac disease sufferers, it is a life-long journey. Celiac patients cannot tolerate gluten, a protein contained in wheat, barley and rye. It is the chief agent that causes the destruction of the villi in the small intestine and triggers autoimmune attacks.
Managing Celiac Disease
With increased awareness of the impact of gluten on the intestine, more people are embracing a gluten-free lifestyle, even those who are not diagnosed with celiac disease. This means there is greater availability of gluten-free foods in neighborhood grocery stores. Many national brands now offer gluten-free versions of their products, along with those found in organic markets and specialty food stores.
One caveat for celiac patients is going out to eat. Choose your restaurant and check ahead of time to see if there are foods you can safely enjoy. Even if the restaurant says they have gluten-free options, you should be aware that cross-contamination can occur when gluten-free foods are prepared in a shared facility. You may want to be extremely careful until you know for sure that what you order is indeed gluten-free. It’s better to err on the side of caution rather than take an unnecessary risk.
Celiac patients can enjoy their life if they are vigilant about their diet. Such a commitment will require the support of family and friends to help you stay the course of gluten-free living. There will be some inconvenience and upheaval as you remove potential contaminants and equipment from your kitchen and switch over to new supplies. You will have to be creative and careful about preparing your food separately from the rest of the family to preserve a completely gluten-free environment. If other family members are not diagnosed with gluten-sensitivity, it may not be helpful to require them to eat gluten-free products.
Once the adjustments have been made, it will become a natural way for you to cook and eat. There are so many tasty gluten-free options that you may not even miss your old way of eating—especially when you can now live free of the pain and complications caused by the gluten protein that your body can’t process. Changing your habits for a new way of eating seems a small price to pay for the physical and health benefits you will enjoy.
If you are experiencing symptoms similar to those described, or if you have a close relative who has been diagnosed with celiac disease, we encourage you to make an appointment with one of our caring physicians at Associates In Digestive Health. We can help you learn to live successfully with celiac disease.