What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is an illness suffered by people who have an intolerance to Gluten in food items. Gluten is traced to everyday grains like barley, rye and wheat. These grains are used in recipes to make baked goods and breads so a person who has celiac disease has to change their diets to ensure they no longer consume any products containing gluten. Unfortunately Celiac disease is a lifelong disease as there is no cure; and the only real treatment is a long term gluten free diet.

Celiac disease can strike at any age, though it is more apparent in someone who may have a family history of the disease. Signs and symptoms of celiac disease do vary between people and again between children and adults.

Celiac disease in its simplest form is an intolerance to dietary gluten; the gluten when eaten is not absorbed by the small intestine and is excreted as fatty nasty smelling stools (steatorrhea). Because the gluten is not absorbed by the body, the beneficial vitamins, minerals and nutrients are also expelled in the stools which then means the person with the disease often suffers malnutrition and further medical problems.

Causes of Celiac Disease

The cells in the small intestine (villi) are damaged (villous atrophy), The villi are supposed to be tiny finger like protrusions which line the walls of the intestine. They normally assist in processing and absorbing the nutrients which are in the food we eat. With celiac disease the villi are flattened meaning they are unable to successfully complete the absorption function.

Symptoms of Celiac Disease

As stated earlier, signs and symptoms do vary between people as can the severity of the disease. Some people exhibit very few symptoms, whilst others experience some of the more serious ones.

Signs and symptoms of celiac disease include

* Pale foul smelly fatty stools, with the possibility of faecal incontinence
* Feelings of Nausea and actual vomiting
* Constipation and Diarrhoea
* Bloating, abdominal pain, and bad gas
* A deficiency of essential vitamins such as B12, A, D, E and K
* General body fatigue combined with muscular weakness and lethargy
* Anaemia
* Bone and joint pains
* Mouth ulcers
* Weight loss
* Bruising of the skin
* Infertility and Miscarriages
* Low blood calcium levels that result in muscle spasms
* Skin rashes

Children with celiac disease may exhibit further symptoms including

* Stunted growth
* A delay in puberty
* Behavioural changes
* Dental problems

Making a Diagnosis of Celiac Disease

A diagnosis can be completed through a variety of methods which include gastroscopy with biopsy and specific blood tests. It is advised that a gluten free diet is not started until a definite diagnosis has been made as the new diet changes the symptoms.

At this time, there is only one sure way of treating celiac disease and that is to remove gluten from the diet completely. This means diligently following a very strict gluten free diet for life. If a strict gluten free diet is supported, then an improvement in condition may be realised in as few as two days. Children with celiac disease who had experienced stunted growth frequently catch up to their peers so long as treatment begins in a timely manner.

Pregnant women with celiac disease must follow their gluten free diets to a tee, otherwise they may put the foetus at risk of abnormalities or even miscarriage. The reason for this is the foetus does not receive adequate nutrition from the mother as she is not absorbing enough nutrients to support the demands of being pregnant.

Celiac disease can be life altering, although once treated, the affected individual is able to recover completely and lead a relatively normal life.

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One Response to “What is Celiac Disease?”

  1. A formerly colleague of mine suffered from celiac and at one point was on sick leave for over six months due to weight loss and fatigue. Very informative article.

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