Over 1 in 100 people around the world are affected by celiac disease, yet it is a condition that still has many misconceptions surrounding it. It’s not uncommon for patients to think gluten-free diets are “trendy” or fads, when in actuality, going gluten-free is the only true and tried way to treat celiac disease. May is Celiac Disease Awareness Month, which is a great time to learn more about the condition, what the signs and symptoms are, and when you should seek medical advice if you show any of the signs.
More About Celiac Disease
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder. Gluten is a protein found in many different types of foods that contain wheat, barley, and rye. It’s commonly found in foods such as breads, cookies, and cakes, but it can also be included in foods such a pasta and sauce. For those without celiac, gluten is an innocuous inclusion that adds to the texture of the food. Those with celiac disease, however, cannot process gluten, which leads to a lot of related problems. Immediate responses to eating gluten for someone with celiac disease may include common symptoms like GI upset, such as gas, bloating, abdominal cramping, and diarrhea. While these are bothersome, the real concern with celiac disease is the long-term effect of the small intestine not being able to process the protein.
The lining of the small intestine is coated with villi, and after years of “attack” due to the nonprocessing of gluten, other serious problems can occur. Villi help the small intestine to absorb nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals. If the villi are damaged, malabsorption occurs, which leads to a laundry list of related medical problems, such as iron-deficiency anemia, early-onset osteoporosis, and pancreatic problems. Troubles with the gallbladder, miscarriage and infertility, and neurological problems can also occur.
Symptoms of Celiac Disease
Celiac disease can be challenging to diagnose because there is an extensive range of symptoms, and signs can manifest in everyone differently, particularly if you’re comparing children and adults. In children, celiac symptoms may include diarrhea and vomiting, abdominal pain, failure to thrive, stunted growth, ADHD symptoms, dental enamel problems, and weight loss.
In adults, celiac disease looks much different, with symptoms such as bone or joint pain, liver problems such as fatty liver, fatigue, arthritis, canker sores, dry skin rash, depression and anxiety, migraines, and pain in the hands and feet.
If you suspect celiac disease, the only way to know for sure is to have a screening from a doctor. It is possible, however, to experiment with an elimination diet and avoid gluten entirely for a period of time. If you have any of the above symptoms and these vastly improve, it’s a good idea to take this information to your doctor for a formal diagnosis. Blood tests and/or a small biopsy of the small intestine can give the definitive diagnosis.
Treatment for Celiac
Doctors and researchers still aren’t fully sure of what causes celiac sensitivity and disease, and why some are more predisposed to it than others. There is also no “cure” for celiac disease and only one viable treatment option. If you are diagnosed with celiac, the first thing your doctor will recommend is strict adherence to a gluten-free diet. This is the best way to keep immediate celiac sensitivity symptoms at bay, and also the best option to keep serious long-term health effects from gluten sensitivity from occurring. There is no other pharmacological treatment or alternative therapy to arrest celiac disease other than going gluten-free; however, based on the level of the condition, the provider may suggest vitamin or mineral supplements to replace those not absorbed after years of celiac sensitivity. It is also important, even with a formal diagnosis, to keep up with follow-up appointments with your provider, even if you’ve gone gluten-free.
If you need more information about celiac disease or suspect you may have symptoms associated with celiac, request an appointment at Associates in Digestive Health today. Our attentive and caring staff is committed to helping you live your healthiest life.