celiac disease

What is celiac disease and how do you treat it?

Posted on Posted in Medical conditions

If you’re feeling bloated, heartburn or pain in your joints; if you have rashes in your skin, you are losing weight, you have headaches and you feel fatigued; these symptoms might mean you have diarrhea, arthritis or….you may have celiac disease.

celiac disease
Grains such as wheat, rye and barley contain gluten, and people with celiac disease should avoid these (Image: Creative commons)

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder which is triggered by consumption of gluten. Gluten is a protein which is found in rye, barley, wheat and foods prepared from these grains. When celiac disease patients consume gluten their immune system reacts by damaging or destroying villi in the small intestine. Villi are the tiny, fingerlike elongated projections lining the small intestine which absorb vitamins, minerals and other nutrients from food through the small intestinal walls into the bloodstream. A person becomes malnourished because of the lack of healthy villi. Brain, nervous system, liver, bones and other organs may be by deprived of nourishment. Therefore, celiac disease is also a disease of malabsorption. In children, malabsorption caused by celiac disease can affect growth and development. Stomach pain may be caused by intestinal irritation.

Sometimes celiac disease is triggered or gets activated for the first time after pregnancy, childbirth surgery, emotional stress, or viral infection.

If the disease is not treated, the patient may develop further complications such as osteoporosis, other autoimmune diseases, thyroid disease, and cancer.

Quick facts

  • This disease is also known as celiac sprue, nontropicalsprue, and gluten-sensitive enteropathy.
  • People with celiac disease are intolerant to gluten.
  • There is no cure for celiac disease but the symptoms can be managed by following a strict gluten-free diet.
  • An estimated 1% of the population in the U.S. has celiac disease.
  • It can affect men and women of all ages and races.

Read more Pancreatic cancer: The hidden danger that lurks deep in the abdomen

celiac disease
Buckwheat contains no gluten, so it may be consumed by people with celiac disease (Image: Creative commons)

Symptoms

Symptoms may vary among different people. Researchers are studying the reasons why it affects different people in different ways.

Digestive symptoms are more common among infants and young children:

  • Abdominal bloating and pain
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Swollen belly (in infants)
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Weight loss
  • Delayed puberty (in older children)
  • Irritability

Digestive symptoms are not common in adults and they may have the following symptoms:

  • Anemia
  • Fatigue
  • Arthritis
  • Bone or joint pain
  • Osteoporosis or bone loss
  • Seizures
  • Depression of anxiety
  • Missed menstrual periods
  • Infertility or recurring miscarriage
  • Canker sores inside the mouth
  • Itchy skin rash

Other health problems for people with celiac disease

People with celiac disease may have other conditions in which the body’s healthy cells and tissues are mistakenly attacked by the immune system. The connection may be genetic. Examples of other diseases are:

  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Autoimmune liver disease
  • Autoimmune thyroid disease
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Addison’s disease
  • Sjogren’s syndrome

Rea more Drinking beet juice boosts muscle strength in heart failure patients

Diagnosis

  • Blood tests. Even with mild or no symptoms at all, blood tests will detect celiac disease. Elevated levels of antibodies in the blood indicate an immune reaction to gluten.
  • Endoscopy/biopsy. If the blood tests indicate celiac disease, endoscopy may be performed to view the small intestine or biopsy may be performed to take tissue samples.
  • Capsule endoscopy. It is a procedure during which a tiny wireless camera to take pictures of the small intestine. The camera sits inside a tiny capsule. When the patient swallows the capsule, it travels through the digestive tract and takes thousands of pictures that are transmitted to a recorder.
celiac disease
Peanut butter cookie – a good alternative to grain-based cookies (Image: Creative commons)

Treatment

Only treatment for celiac disease is a gluten-free diet. There is no medication available to stop damage to villi or prevent gluten from attacking the small intestine. Strict adherence to a gluten-free diet will allow the healing of intestines. In most cases patient will start to feel better within a few days and this will stop all symptoms of the disease. Tolerance of gluten may vary in patients. Some people may not develop any symptom after consuming a small amount of gluten, while others may develop massive diarrhea with only a tiny amount of gluten.

Read more

Foods to avoid

  • Avoid foods that contain gluten such as:
  • Rye
  • Barley
  • Semolina
  • Durum
  • Bulgur
  • Graham flour
  • Farina
  • Malt
  • Some processed foods may contain gluten. Some processed foods that may contain gluten are:
  • Canned soups
  • Salad dressings
  • Candy bars
  • Ice cream
  • Instant coffee
  • Ketchup and mustard
  • Luncheon meats and processed or canned meats
  • Yogurt
  • Pasta
  • Tablets, capsules and vitamin preparations may also contain gluten. Gluten may also be found in lipstick.
  • Avoid beer. Wine, brandy, whiskey or other alcohols without barley are fine.
  • Avoid milk. Untreated patients with celiac disease are often lactose intolerant.

Foods to take

  • Basic foods for a gluten-free diet are:
  • Fresh meats, fish and poultry
  • Fruits
  • Potatoes
  • Vegetables
  • Common gluten-free alternative for grains and starches are:
  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Corn flour
  • Lentils
  • Corn starch
  • Guar Gum
  • Amaranth
  • Tapioca starch
  • Potato flour
  • Potato starch
  • Almond flour
  • Soy flour
  • Sweet rice
  • Buckwheat
  • Teff
  • Xanthan gum
  • Vitamin and mineral supplements may be prescribed by the doctor.
  • Calcium
  • Folate
  • Iron
  • Vitamin B-12
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin K
  • Zinc

Celiac disease: Know the signs

The following two tabs change content below.
Salahuddin Ahmed is a freelance medical writer and blogger, who has been writing about medicine and health for more than a decade. A former New York transplant, he now lives in his native Dhaka. He received a Bachelor's degree from the University of Louisiana and a diploma on eTechnology from NIIT, Dhaka. A voracious eater, Salahuddin only dines at restaurants that offer free refills on rice.