What Is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease affects more than two million people in the United States. This condition is an autoimmune disease that leads to damage of the small intestine (small bowel) and may interfere with nutrient absorption. If you think you’re suffering from celiac disease, read on to learn more about its symptoms, causes, and treatments.

You may have also heard this condition referred to as:

  • Gluten-sensitive enteropathy
  • Non-tropical sprue
  • Celiac sprue

Consuming gluten generally triggers celiac disease. Gluten is a protein that you’ll find in various foods including:

  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Rye

While gluten is mainly found in foods, it may also be found in various products that are used on a daily basis, including medicines, lip balms, and vitamins.

When patients with this condition consume food or use products that contain gluten, it triggers an immune system response that damages or destroys tissues in the small bowel. These tissues are the fingerlike protrusions that are found in the lining of the small bowel, called the villi. Healthy villi allows you to absorb nutrients that you consume through your food. Those nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream through the walls of the small bowel. When healthy villi become damaged or destroyed, you can quickly become malnourished and suffer from a host of other symptoms.

Celiac disease symptoms

There are over 300 symptoms that have been associated with this condition and symptoms vary among patients. Digestive symptoms are more common in children. Celiac disease symptoms in children often include:

  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal cramping and bloating
  • Foul-smelling or fatty stool
  • Weight loss
  • Irritability

Proper absorption of nutrients is vital for normal growth and development in children. Celiac symptoms during childhood can lead to malabsorption problems such as:

  • A failure to thrive in infants
  • Delayed growth and puberty
  • Dental enamel defects

On the other hand, adults are less likely to experience digestive symptoms and are more likely to present with signs and celiac symptoms such as:

  • Anemia (decreased red blood cell count)
  • Bone or joint pain
  • Fatigue
  • Arthritis
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
  • Seizures
  • Oral canker sores
  • Skin rash (dermatitis herpetiformis)
  • Missed menstrual cycles
  • Infertility or recurrent miscarriage

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What Causes Celiac Disease?

The exact cause of celiac disease remains unknown. However, this condition tends to run in families, suggesting that there may be a genetic link. Researchers have found that some gene mutations appear to increase the risk of developing celiac disease. However, having these mutations does not necessarily mean that you will develop this condition. Because of this, we know that other factors must be involved.

In some patients, celiac disease is triggered, or becomes active for the first time following:

  • Pregnancy
  • Childbirth
  • Surgery
  • Viral infection
  • Intense emotional stress

Often patients with this condition commonly have other autoimmune diseases, including:

  • Type I diabetes
  • Autoimmune liver disease
  • Autoimmune thyroid disease
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Sjogren’s syndrome
  • Addison’s disease

Getting Diagnosed With Celiac Disease

Diagnosing celiac disease begins with a medical history (including family history) and physical examination.

If you suspect that you’re suffering from this condition, your doctor may order laboratory (blood) tests to look for certain antibodies in the blood. These can indicate an abnormal immune reaction to gluten. These blood tests are very sensitive, as well, and can even detect celiac disease in patients who exhibit minimal to no symptoms.

If the laboratory results indicate celiac disease, your doctor may also order an endoscopy to view your small bowel. Likewise, they may take a biopsy during this procedure to visualize your villi damage.

A capsule endoscopy is another test that they may utilize. This test uses a small wireless camera to take pictures of your small intestine. The camera is positioned inside a capsule that is swallowed by the patient. As the capsule moves through the gastrointestinal tract, it takes pictures that are transmitted for the physician to review.

Early diagnosis and treatment of celiac disease is imperative. If this condition is left untreated, patients may develop further complications including osteoporosis, thyroid disease, and cancer.

Celiac Disease Treatments

There is no cure for this condition, but you can typically manage symptoms by avoiding gluten in your diet and undertaking other lifestyle changes. If you are diagnosed with celiac disease, it can also be beneficial to meet with a dietitian. They can help you manage your diet appropriately.

Patients with this condition must also be aware of hidden sources of gluten in products (i.e. hydrolyzed vegetable or plant protein, kaput, spelt, malt, etc.). Before consuming food or using certain products, patients with celiac disease need to carefully read ingredient labels. A dietitian can help patients understand food sources of gluten and can teach patients how to read food labels properly.

It is important for patients with this condition to remember that even though they may not have symptoms, damage may still occur to the intestinal lining when consuming or using gluten products.

Treatment for more severe cases 

Occasionally, a patient’s symptoms are unresponsive to a gluten-free diet. This may signal that traces of gluten are hiding in their diet.

If the damage to the intestinal wall is so severe that is unable to heal, it is called refractory celiac disease. In these cases, patients may require intravenous nutrition. Additionally, some patients may require steroids to help heal damaged mucosa. Patients who suffer from dermatitis herpetiformis–another side effect–may receive a prescription for a topical medication to help control their itching.

If your symptoms are unresponsive to dietary changes, it may be time to talk to a gastroenterologist. Gastroenterologists can conduct additional diagnostic testing to check for damage. They can also recommend alternative treatment options for more severe cases.

Celiac Disease: Causes And Treatments For Chronic Pain | PainDoctor.com


Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that damages the small bowel and interferes with nutrient absorption when an individual consumes food or uses products that contain gluten. Symptoms of celiac disease vary widely among patients, with children exhibiting more digestive symptoms and adults experiencing a wide variety of other symptoms.

At the present time, there is no cure for this condition; however, it can often be effectively managed with a diet that is free from gluten. Patients experiencing symptoms of celiac disease should speak to their physicians as an accurate and early diagnosis may help to prevent future complications.

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