What is celiac disease?
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that involves an abnormal immune response in the small intestine after ingesting gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Over time, this reaction damages the lining of the small intestine and prevents absorption of some nutrients (malabsorption). Celiac disease affects 1 in 100 people worldwide, including children and adults. There is no cure for celiac disease.
What are the symptoms of celiac disease?
Some people with celiac disease have no symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they can include:
- Pain in the belly
- Stools that are oily and float
- Weight loss
- Feeling bloated, or too full all the time
- Low appetite
- Bad gas
- Itchy skin rashes
- Invisible symptoms, such as weak bones or low iron levels
- Slow growth in children
- Iron deficiency anemia
How is celiac disease diagnosed?
A careful history and physical exam are important parts to the diagnosis of celiac disease, as many times this potential diagnosis is overlooked and symptoms are mistakenly attributed to irritable bowel syndrome. If your GI provider has a good level of suspicion that you may have celiac disease, generally two tests are used to diagnose celiac disease:
- Serum (blood) test – A blood test looks for proteins that some people make after eating gluten. People who have celiac disease have lots of these proteins, called antibodies. This test is done on a gluten-containing diet. The common antibody tests are tissue transglutaminase, anti-gliadin and anti-endomysial antibodies.
- Duodenal biopsy – To do a biopsy, the doctor will put a thin tube with a tiny camera down the throat. This is called an endoscopy, or EGD. When the tube is in the small intestine, small samples of tissue from the duodenum are taken. The tissue is examined under a microscope to see if gluten has damaged the intestine.
How do you treat celiac disease?
The goal of all celiac treatment is the complete dietary elimination of gluten, i.e. going on a gluten-free diet. This might be hard to do at first. Reading labels regularly is essential to avoiding gluten. You will need to avoid rye, wheat and barley. These ingredients appear in many common foods, including:
- Bread, pasta, pastries and cereal
- Many sauces, spreads and condiments
- Beers, ales, lagers and malt vinegars
Meeting with a dietician who has experience in working with celiac patients can be very helpful. Your doctor might also prescribe vitamins to make up for nutrients that you have not been getting from food. Periodic followup with a gastroenterologist is important to ensure progress with celiac disease, as there are complications that can occur from incompletely or inadequately treated celiac disease. These complications can include certain types of small intestinal cancer, as well as a form of celiac disease that leads to a permanently damaged small intestine.
Our experienced team of physicians and advanced practice providers at Associates in Gastroenterology can help you with your concerns, questions and management of all aspects of gastrointestinal and liver disease. We would love to be your gastroenterology practice. Please schedule an appointment either by calling us (719-635-7321) or by clicking here.
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