There are quite a few “new” medical conditions that have received a lot of media attention in the last few years. Celiac Disease is one of them. Often people self-diagnose themselves with this disease, by simply changing their diet. While their symptoms may improve, it is important to REALLY know if you have this medical condition.
What Is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease, also known as celiac sprue, is a digestive condition triggered by consumption of the protein gluten, which is primarily found in bread, pasta, cookies, pizza crust and many other foods containing wheat, barley or rye. People with celiac disease who eat foods containing gluten experience an immune reaction in their small intestines, causing damage to the inner surface of the small intestine and an inability to absorb certain nutrients.
What Causes Celiac Disease?
We know that something happens in people with celiac disease to cause the body’s immune system to overreact in response to gluten in food, but the exact cause is unknown. It does run in families, and is associated with genetic mutations.
What Are The Symptoms?
Most people with the disease have general complaints, such as:
- Intermittent diarrhea
- Abdominal pain
Sometimes people with celiac disease may have no gastrointestinal symptoms at all. Celiac disease symptoms can also mimic those of other conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, gastric ulcers, Crohn’s disease, parasite infections and anemia. So, it is important to get the correct diagnosis.
How Is Celiac Disease Diagnosed?
Your health care provider may refer you to a Gastroenterologist. Celiac is best diagnosed with an endoscopy. This involves a procedure to examine a small portion of intestinal tissue to check for damage. To do this, your health care provider inserts a thin, flexible tube (endoscope) through your mouth, esophagus and stomach into your small intestine and takes a sample of intestinal tissue to examine under a microscope. There are also blood tests that can help determine if you have celiac disease.
Some people try a gluten-free diet on their own, to see if that helps relieve their signs and symptoms. But doing so may change the results of blood tests so that they appear to be normal. So see your doctor for testing first, before you try a gluten-free diet.
How Is Celiac Disease Treated?
Celiac disease has no cure, but you can effectively manage the disease through changing your diet.
Changes to your diet to avoid gluten: To manage the disease and prevent complications, it’s crucial that you avoid all foods that contain gluten, including:
- Graham flour
- Spelt (a form of wheat)
Your health care provider may refer you to a dietitian, who can help you plan a healthy gluten-free diet.
Once you’ve removed gluten from your diet, inflammation in your small intestine will begin to subside, usually within several weeks, though you may start to feel better in just a few days. Complete healing and regrowth of the villi may take several months, or as long as two to three years. Healing in the small intestine tends to occur more quickly in children than it does in adults.
If you accidentally eat a product that contains gluten, you may experience abdominal pain and diarrhea. Some people experience no signs or symptoms after eating gluten, but this doesn’t mean it’s not harmful. Even trace amounts of gluten in your diet can be damaging, whether or not they cause signs or symptoms.
Vitamin supplementation may be necessary, as well. First, you should see a health care provider to discuss your symptoms and/or family history. Correct diagnosis is important!