Diseases & Conditions

What Is Celiac Disease? Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Diet Changes

You may have heard of celiac disease before, but did you know that it affects one out of every one hundred people worldwide? According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, there are currently 2.5 million Americans alone that suffer from the disease.

With this disease affecting so many people, it’s crucial to have a good understanding of what the condition is and how it affects those who are diagnosed with it. In this article, we’ll explore what celiac disease is, how it affects the human body, and how it can be treated and managed.

What Is Celiac Disease and What Causes It?

Celiac disease is classified as a digestive disorder. Often referred to as sprue or gluten-sensitive enteropathy, celiac disease is essentially when the digestive system has an immune response to the consumption of gluten.

So what is gluten exactly? Barley, wheat, rye, various medicines, some vitamins, processed oats, and wheat-hybrid triticale all contain a protein called gluten. When people have a gluten-sensitivity or intolerance such as with celiac disease, the body responds to the presence of gluten by creating villi-destroying toxins. When the villi in the intestines are destroyed, it can cause malnutrition.

What Are the Symptoms of Celiac Disease?

Symptoms vary with people living with celiac disease. Children also tend to experience different symptoms with the disease than adults do. Here’s an idea of what to expect symptom-wise:

Adults

  • Fatigue
  • Enamel loss
  • Seizures
  • Infertility
  • Miscarriage history
  • Anemia
  • Skin rash
  • Brittle bone disorders
  • Tingling in extremities
  • Mouth sores
  • Irregular menstruation
  • Severe indigestion

Children

  • Irritation
  • Weight loss
  • Fatty, odorous stools
  • Tiredness
  • Abdominal pain or bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Nausea and vomiting

Complications from Celiac Disease

Celiac disease can present with long term complications in those diagnosed. Some complications that can be experienced when the disease is severe or untreated include:

  • Bone Loss – Due to possible malnutrition caused by the presence of celiac disease, bone density loss can be experienced. This loss is mostly due to the body experiencing difficulty in absorbing vitamin D and calcium.
  • Malnutrition – Because the intestines are experiencing the villi being damaged, they are struggling to absorb nutrients as needed from food being consumed.
  • Depression – Depression can be an unexpected complication of celiac disease. It’s thought that the associated depression can be caused by the lack of tryptophan and vitamin B6 in the system due to malnutrition and malabsorption.
  • Lactose Intolerance – Celiac disease can result in the intestine becoming inflamed. When this happens, the enzyme that breaks down lactose can experience a reduction in production.
  • Dental Problems – Dental problems are another complication with celiac disease that can result due to malnutrition and malabsorption.
  • Bowel Cancer – Various digestive cancers can result from celiac disease, unfortunately. It’s believed that intestine inflammation may be the cause of untreated celiac disease increasing cancer risk.

How Celiac Disease Is Diagnosed

Celiac disease requires diagnosis by a physician. Your doctor will take an extensive medical history during your appointment and then diagnose through the use of several testing options. When testing is conducted, labs are looking for higher than normal levels of antiendomysium and anti-tissue transglutaminase being present. You can most likely expect one of the following blood tests being used to confirm your diagnosis:

  • Cholesterol blood test
  • Serum albumin test
  • Liver function blood test
  • Alkaline phosphate level blood test
  • Complete blood count

Skin tests and endoscopies are also sometimes used to confirm celiac disease.

Those at Risk for Developing Celiac Disease

While celiac disease can develop with anyone, it’s been shown that it is often hereditary and more likely to show up with people who have certain conditions, such as:

  • Down syndrome
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Addison’s disease
  • Turner syndrome
  • Intestinal cancer
  • Lupus
  • Thyroid disease
  • Autoimmune liver disease
  • Sjogren’s syndrome

How Celiac Disease Is Treated

A substantial change in diet is virtually the only way celiac disease can be treated for patients. Doctors can be expected to prescribe complete removal of gluten from the menu. When diet modifications are followed appropriately by those who have been diagnosed, symptom improvement can often be seen within just a few days.

Eating With Celiac Disease

Changing your diet following a celiac disease diagnosis can be quite the undertaking. There is a long list of foods and ingredients that will need to be avoided and substitutions that will need to be made. Below is a list of foods and ingredients to avoid, as well as gluten-friendly foods.

Foods to Avoid

Unless they are marked as gluten-free, avoid the following:

  • Cereal
  • Beer
  • Bread
  • Cake
  • Cookies
  • Potato chips
  • Soup
  • Hot dogs
  • French fries
  • lunch meat
  • Crackers
  • Pie
  • Sauces
  • Pasta

Ingredients to Avoid

The following list of ingredients should be watched for and avoided due to most-likely containing gluten:

  • Triticale
  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Wheat starch
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Malt

Gluten-Friendly Foods

When you have celiac disease, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the foods marked safe for gluten intolerance. Eating right and healthy has never been more important after your diagnosis; this is because you’ll need to avoid triggering your intolerance reactions and malnutrition issues. Here’s a quick list of gluten-free and friendly foods to keep in mind:

  • Quinoa
  • Millet
  • Brown rice
  • Wild rice
  • Arrowroot
  • Gluten-free oats
  • Buckwheat
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Seafood
  • Tofu
  • Edamame
  • Legumes
  • Red meat
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Vegetable oil
  • Sesame oil
  • Canola oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Water
  • Lemonade
  • Tea
  • Coffee
  • Wine
  • Pears
  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Peaches
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Bell peppers
  • Berries
  • White or distilled vinegar
  • Carrots
  • Green beans
  • Radishes
  • Butter
  • Coconut Oil
  • Soda
  • Energy drinks
  • Sports drinks
  • Cream
  • Cheese
  • Sour cream
  • Yogurt
  • Ghee
  • Cottage cheese
  • Milk

Snack Ideas

Snacking following your diagnosis is going to look different. Here are a few snack ideas to get you started:

  • Gluten-free popcorn
  • Plain yogurt
  • Gluten-free hummus
  • Fresh fruit
  • Fresh vegetables
  • String cheese
  • Canned fruit
  • Gluten-free rice cakes topped with hummus or cheese
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