Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes damage to the small intestine when gluten is consumed. Celiac disease occurs in people who are genetically predisposed to the illness and is hereditary.
Research has yet to discern the cause of the disease, though it is noted that it can trigger after events like surgery, pregnancy, viral infections, and severe stress. Patients with celiac disease can be diagnosed as a child or an adult.
What Are The Symptoms of Celiac Disease?
Symptoms of celiac disease include both digestive and non-digestive issues:
- Weight loss
- Osteoporosis (loss of bone density) or osteomalacia (bone softening)
- Skin rash
- Mouth ulcers
- Numbness or tingling in the feet or hands
- Acid reflux
When gluten is consumed, the body’s immune system over-responds and attacks the patient’s small intestine, damaging the villi. These are small hair-like projections that line the intestine and are essential in helping the body absorb nutrients. As a result, the body cannot properly absorb the nutrients it needs, which can lead to complications.
What Happens If It Goes Undiagnosed?
It is estimated that 97% of those with celiac disease are undiagnosed. If left undiagnosed, celiac disease can cause complications in patients:
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Lactose intolerance
- Fertility problems
- Nervous system disorders
In children, complications can take the form of poor tooth enamel, delayed puberty, or intussusception (when the intestines fold in on themselves).
What Are The Treatments?
Currently, there are no treatments for celiac disease other than to strictly avoid foods that contain gluten like:
- Wheat & wheat varieties
- Malt beverages
It’s also important to remember that some non-food items can contain gluten:
- Wheat based play-dough
- Some drugs and over the counter medications
- Nutritional supplements
Of course, there are many good gluten-free versions of the above products available. Educate patients on how to read nutrition labels as well as what they can do to avoid gluten while still eating healthy.