Celiac disease afflicts approximately 1% of the population. However, 83% of those with it might be undiagnosed. Celiac disease can cause a number of health problems, ranging from serious to annoying. Over time, very serious health problems can emerge if celiac disease is left untreated. Other names for celiac disease include celiac sprue, coeliac disease, non-tropical sprue, and gluten sensitive enteropathy.
What are some celiac disease symptoms? What causes celiac disease? What are some of the long-term effects of celiac disease?
Most people begin to notice celiac symptoms when they develop gastrointestinal issues after eating gluten. Celiac disease is, in essence, an allergy to gluten, a key protein found in rye, wheat, and barley. These grains are major parts of the modern diet. Gluten from them can be found in items that don’t even contain wheat, like processed cheese. For those with celiac disease, the ingestion of gluten wreaks havoc on their immune system.
When someone with celiac disease eats gluten, the immune system responds by attacking the small intestine. The small fingerlike protrusions that line the small intestine, called villi, get damaged. These villi are incredibly important because they promote nutrient absorption by providing a great surface area for absorption to occur. When the villi get damaged, nutrients stop being absorbed properly into the body, leading to a number of celiac symptoms. Even a small amount of gluten can cause damage to the villi in the small intestine.
Digestive celiac disease symptoms occur more frequently in children and infants. Nutrition absorption is very important to proper growth and the signs of celiac disease can be very obvious in growing kids. Celiac disease symptoms in children include:
- Chronic diarrhea
- Abdominal pain
- Irritability and other behavioral issues
- Short stature
- Delayed puberty
- Enamel defects in adult teeth
Celiac disease symptoms in adults can be similar in some respects, especially when it comes to the digestive problems. However, the symptoms of celiac disease in adults can more closely resemble common signs of aging. Signs of celiac disease for adults include:
- Joint or bone pain
- Tingling, numbness, or pain in hands and feet (peripheral neuropathy)
- Iron-deficiency anemia
- Canker sores inside the mouth
- Itchy skin rashes (dermatitis herpetiformis)
- Missed menstrual periods
Celiac disease can also cause a number of autoimmune disorders over time since it is itself an autoimmune disorder. Left untreated, it can lead to Type I diabetes, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, gallbladder malfunction, pancreatic insufficiency, dementia, and intestinal cancers. Celiac disease is a very serious health issue and should be treated as such. If you or someone in your family has celiac symptoms, it’s a good idea to look into a celiac disease test.
Celiac disease is formally diagnosed using a coeliac disease blood test. This most common form of this test is called a tTG-IgA test. This test is very accurate, coming back as positive for 98% of people with celiac disease. It rarely gives false positives or false negatives. However, if someone has another autoimmune disorder, they are more likely to get a false positive. There are several other tests, including the IgA Endomysial antibody test, but they are more expensive and are usually only used in special cases. Your doctor will know the challenges of each kind of test and will steer you in the right direction.
If you are related to someone with celiac disease, especially if your parents, siblings, or children have it, you are much more likely to have it and should be screened. There are some genetic tests that you can have done to see if you have a very slightly higher chance of developing celiac disease (3% instead of 1%), but carrying the gene is not the same as having celiac disease.
Weirdly enough, some people with celiac disease don’t exhibit symptoms. The small intestine damage can take a very long time to manifest any symptoms. If you have family with celiac disease, getting a blood test is a smart idea even if you have never demonstrated celiac symptoms at all.
Celiac disease is more common among Caucasians. It’s also more common among those with Turner syndrome, Down syndrome, Addison’s disease. Other autoimmune conditions like type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis also make it much more likely that a person will have celiac disease. Stressful events like surgery, viral infections, or even emotional trauma can trigger celiac disease. Sometimes it sets in after pregnancy.
The only current treatment for celiac disease is complete adherence to a strictly gluten-free diet. Ingesting even a small amount of gluten in the form of crumbs can cause minute amounts of small intestine damage that will add up over time. Cross-contamination is often the biggest risk. Gluten can find its way into things by accident quite easily. Crumbs form cutting boards, for instance, can be an issue. Sometimes the food production process causes gluten-free products to be made near products with gluten, as is the case with peanut butter. Most peanut butter is technically gluten-free, but because it is made under conditions that can cause gluten contamination, it is rarely labeled as gluten-free.
Don’t feel like going gluten-free means your diet suddenly gets boring! Thanks to an increased awareness of celiac disease, more and more food is being made without gluten. It’s also a great opportunity to try new things and see what’s out there. You might have to say goodbye to the processed cheese of your childhood, but now you can explore the wide, wide world of natural cheese, for instance.
Celiac disease is a serious health issue. It makes everyday life uncomfortable and can lead to serious health complications. If you or members of your family have some of the symptoms listed here, or if you have family members with celiac disease, look into getting a celiac disease test. It can make a serious difference in your health and overall quality of life. A celiac diagnosis is not the end of the world. In fact, it opens up new horizons and allows you to enjoy them more comfortably than ever before.