Reviewed By: Dr. Kurt Kloss, MD
Last Reviewed Date: Sep 01, 2017
Last Modified Date: Sep 01, 2017
Published Date: Sep 01, 2017
At Risk for Celiac Disease? Knowing the Symptoms is Essential
Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disorder that results from the inability to digest gluten, a compound found in grains that include wheat, barley and rye.
Undigested gluten causes an abnormal immune system response that causes damage to the lining of the small intestine and can cause celiac disease symptoms. Celiac disease is a genetic condition that may affect up to three percent of Americans. Definitive diagnosis of the disease, which is done through blood testing and gastrointestinal screening, is essential to appropriate treatment.
About Celiac Disease
Celiac disease is a form of intestinal illness, often referred to as gluten-sensitive enteropathy (which basically means ‘disease of the intestine’). It is a genetic disorder that affects the body's immune system, causing it to attack the small intestine, damaging the villi that line the intestinal wall. Villi are tiny, finger like protrusions in the small intestine that are vital to the absorption of nutrients through the intestinal walls into the bloodstream.
Damage to these vital structures leads to poor absorption of nutrients and eventually, malnutrition. Some celiac sufferers exhibit lifelong symptoms, while in others, the onset of the disease is triggered by surgery, pregnancy, childbirth, viral infection or periods of severe stress.
Celiac Disease Symptoms
The type, number and intensity of celiac disease symptoms varies greatly from one affected individual to another. Many with this common disorder display no obvious symptoms, while others suffer severe, debilitating ones.
Common symptoms in infants and children include:
- Abdominal bloating and pain
- Chronic diarrhea
- Pale or fatty stool with a foul odor
- Weight loss
- Failure to thrive in infants
- Slow growth
- Delayed puberty
- Dental enamel defects
Adults may display many of the same digestive symptoms as children as well as other common celiac disease symptoms such as:
- Unexplained iron-deficiency anemia
- Bone or joint pain
- Depression or anxiety
- Unexplained infertility
- Recurrent miscarriage
- Irregular or missed menstrual periods
- Tingling or numbness in hands and feet
- Mouth sores
- Itchy skin rash
Potential Long-Term Complications
Untreated celiac disease is associated with a number of long-term health effects. According to the World Gastroenterology Organisation (WGO), individuals with celiac disease are 10 times more likely to develop other autoimmune diseases, such as:
- Insulin-dependent type 1 diabetes
- Autoimmune liver disease
- Thyroid disease
- Addison’s disease
- Sjögren’s syndrome
- Neurological disorders
Other long-term complications of celiac disease can include osteoporosis, anemia and cancers of the esophagus, intestine and lymphatic system.
There is just one effective treatment for this disease; a strict gluten free diet. The majority of patients who adhere to such a diet faithfully are able to resolve celiac disease symptoms and heal intestinal damage, restoring health and well-being. However, it can be difficult to achieve optimal nutrition on such a diet, so it is wise to seek the assistance of a dietitian in formulating a healthy, well-balanced eating plan.
Why Definitive Diagnosis Matters
Individuals who are experiencing celiac disease symptoms should never self-diagnose, even if they are reasonably certain, due to family history, of the source of their symptoms. A long list of other diseases and health conditions can cause issues that closely resemble celiac disease symptoms or can coexist with celiac disease, requiring more extensive treatment than the removal of gluten from the diet.
According to the WGO, the gold standard for definitive diagnosis of celiac disease is an evaluation of any possible celiac disease symptoms and blood testing to detect antibodies associated with the disease. Since the blood test must be done while you are still exposed to gluten, starting a gluten-free diet before testing can delay diagnosis and treatment. If blood tests are positive for these antibodies, they should be followed with an endoscopy with biopsy of the small intestine to screen for the intestinal changes that characterize celiac disease.
Individuals who have a family history of celiac disease should be screened regularly for the disorder by means of blood testing, even if no symptoms are present. Celiac disease, for many, is a silent disease, producing no obvious symptoms or very mild ones. While these individuals do not suffer the daily celiac disease symptoms that others do, the small intestine is still progressively damaged by gluten ingestion, and the risk of long-term, sometimes life-threatening complications is still an issue.
At-risk individuals who require regular testing for celiac disease may find that using a private medical testing service is a more convenient and cost-effective means of monitoring their health. Health Testing Centers offers the most sensitive test available for celiac disease detection. Consumers can order tests quickly and easily online, they are conducted at one of 1400 convenient LapCorp locations, and results are delivered directly to the patient.
Some of the media in this article come from The Digestive Diseases Dictionary (DD-167), page 55. Image Number: N00625.