Celiac Disease in Children

Celiac disease can develop in children after weaning them onto cereals made with rye, barley and wheat, all of which contain gluten. The disease is ten times more likely to develop in a child if one of the parents has the illness. In this case, gluten should not be fed to children until at least six months of age since celiac disease can develop in a child if introduced before this time. The grains should be introduced steadily into a baby’s diet so that infants can be monitored for signs of celiac disease. Breast milk is naturally free of gluten and infant milk formulas are gluten free, too.

Celiac disease in children is usually diagnosed between six months and two years old because that is the time when they are getting their first tastes of gluten in foods they eat.

One of the first indications of celiac disease is when children exhibit a lack of appetite, delayed development, shorter than normal stature, and possibly a failure to thrive overall. Other frequent symptoms are a swollen stomach coupled with vomiting and diarrhoea, arm and leg muscles that become thin, wasted and pale, and bulky stools with putrid smells. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and can be intermittent in nature.

A child may only exhibit a few of these symptoms or even none at all until a trigger such as an injury or a stressful period happens. Although some of the more common ones outlined above may not be seen, often iron deficiency anaemia, impaired growth, a skin rash or changes to the enamel of teeth will be evident.

Slowed growth happens because celiac disease does not permit the intestine to absorb the goodness from food as well as a healthy one. Changes to the teeth invariably affect the permanent adult set and can lead to a yellowing of the enamel. The teeth can also become pitted and develop grooves.

Since the gut cannot absorb enough vitamin D and calcium, thin bones can occur in children with celiac disease.

Not all children need to be tested, though, if they show some of the above-mentionned signs. But, it is worthwhile discussing the symptoms with a healthcare provider, especially if risk factors are present. In children, one of the risk factors may be a family history of celiac disease. Additionally, if they suffer from one or more of diabetes mellitus, thyroid problems and syndromes such as Turner, Williams and Downs.

Testing for celiac is the same for children as adults, and gluten should remain in their diets until testing is completed to ensure accurate results. A blood sample is taken to look for specific antibodies and this may be followed up with a biopsy of the intestine via endoscopy. The tissue sample is taken by a cutting tool fitted to a long thin camera that is inserted through the mouth. Whereas adults usually have a local anaesthetic that numbs the throat, children would undergo a general anaesthetic where they are actually asleep and feel nothing.

Treatment of celiac disease by consuming a gluten-free diet can improve the condition in most cases as it allows the lining of the bowel to return to normal. Often, vitamin supplements are also recommended if a child lacks the required nutrition. The damage can return immediately if gluten is introduced back into the diet. Foods to be avoided are pasta, bread, cereal, pies, cakes, biscuits and sauces.

Indeed, it can be difficult for both parents and children, as they need to make adjustments to their lifestyles in order to support a gluten free diet. Meeting with a dietician who is experienced in treating celiac disease can provide a better understanding of the disease in terms of which foods are safe to eat, how to effectively read food labels, and where to find acceptable alternate selections for a child’s favourite food items.

Parents of children who are newly diagnosed should speak to their teachers at school or the day care provider about the condition, listing those foods which are safe, as well as what procedures to undertake in case of illness. Parents should also think about how to handle parties the children might attend and what to do when going on holidays.

Today, excellent gluten-free substitute foods are widely available. After beginning a gluten-free diet, most children begin to feel improved results within two weeks.

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