Celiac disease is a digestive disease caused by an immune reaction to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. People with celiac disease who eat foods containing gluten have a reaction from their immune systems which damages the small intestine. The small intestine is composed of many small fingerlike protrusions called villi, which aid the absorption of nutrients into the bloodstream. With celiac disease, these villi become damaged, and needed nutrients can no longer be absorbed by the body. It was once thought to be a rare disease affecting children, but now it is estimated that two million Americans suffer from the disease, and it is considered the result of a common genetic defect. About one in 133 people have celiac disease, and if it is found in your immediate family, your chances of developing it are one in 22. Even though it is a genetic disease, it can be triggered by severe stress, pregnancy, childbirth, or viral infection in those who harbor the abnormality. If you have celiac disease, you can suffer from diarrhea, anemia, infertility, hair loss, and osteoporosis. And you will become malnourished even if you eat a large amount of food unless gluten foods are removed from your diet.
Babies and children often experience digestive symptoms from the disease, and it can interfere with their development. If children cannot absorb the nutrients that they need for growth in their diets, it can affect their height, teeth enamel, and delay puberty. The symptoms of celiac disease in children tend to be different than those affecting an adult:
- Chronic diarrhea
- Bloating and pain in the abdomen
- Weight loss
- Pale, foul-smelling or fatty stools
Adults on the other hand, often don’t have digestive symptoms, but are affected by different signs of ill health. Some people may never experience any symptoms, but will over the course of time develop health problems. Symptoms for adults are the following:
- Joint pain or arthritis
- Iron-deficiency anemia
- Depression or anxiety
- Canker sores in the mouth
- Bone loss or osteoporosis
- Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet
- Infertility or repeated miscarriages
- Missed menstrual periods
- Dermatitis herpetiformis, an itchy skin rash
Celiac disease if often misdiagnosed because its symptoms are often confused with other diseases. It is similar to inflammatory bowel disease, diverticulitis, irritable bowel syndrome, iron-deficiency anemia caused by menstrual blood loss, chronic fatigue syndrome, and intestinal infections. Many doctors are not knowledgeable about the disease and blood tests are not widely available. High levels of certain autoantibodies, which are proteins that react against the body’s tissues and cells, can be found in the blood of those who have celiac disease with certain blood tests. If these blood tests are positive for the disease, it can be confirmed with a biopsy of the small intestine which examines the villi for damage.
Celiac disease is often misunderstood, and the health consequences can be severe for the sufferer, particularly in the case of children. The National Institute for Digestive Diseases is presently trying to raise public awareness about the condition. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of celiac disease, it is important to consult your healthcare provider about them for a diagnosis.
written by, Joy Seeman
© 2009 Hemorrhoid-Information-Center
Sources: Celiac Disease. (2008, December 13). Retrieved August 26, 2009, from Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.com
Celiac Disease. (2009, February 10). Retrieved August 26, 2009, from Celiac Disease Foundation: http://www.celiac.org
Celiac Disease Awareness Campaign. (2008, September). Retrieved August 26, 2009, from National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: http://celiac.nih.gov