What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease, also known as celiac sprue or gluten-sensitive enteropathy, is an inherited, autoimmune condition that affects the digestive system. Eating products that contain gluten, including wheat, barley and rye (and some oat products), creates an immune response that causes severe inflammation of the lining of the small intestine. This damage to the digestive system interferes with the ability to absorb nutrients from food. Malnutrition and other related complications are the result. Essentially the body is attacking itself every time a person with celiac consumes gluten. Over time, untreated celiac disease can cause permanent damage to the digestive system resulting in additional autoimmune and inflammatory conditions and can even cause cancer of the small intestine. The only known treatment for it at this time is to completely abstain from eating anything containing gluten.

illustration of normal and diseased celia in intestine

Symptoms of celiac disease vary from person to person. Symptoms may occur in the digestive system or in other parts of the body. Digestive symptoms are more common in infants and young children and may include:

  • abdominal bloating and pain
  • chronic diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • constipation
  • pale, foul-smelling, or fatty stool
  • weight loss

Irritability is another common symptom in children. Malabsorption of nutrients during the years when nutrition is critical to a child’s normal growth and development can result in other problems such as failure to thrive in infants, delayed growth and short stature, delayed puberty, and dental enamel defects of the permanent teeth.

Adults can have all of the above symptoms, although they are less likely to have digestive symptoms. Adults may instead have one or more of the following:

  • unexplained iron-deficiency anemia
  • fatigue
  • bone or joint pain
  • arthritis
  • bone loss or osteoporosis
  • depression, anxiety or “foggy” thinking
  • tingling numbness in the hands and feet
  • seizures
  • missed menstrual periods
  • infertility or recurrent miscarriage
  • canker sores inside the mouth
  • an itchy skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis

People with celiac disease may have no symptoms but can still develop complications of the disease over time. Long-term complications include malnutrition—which can lead to anemia, osteoporosis, and miscarriage, among other problems—liver diseases, and cancers of the intestine.

Celiac disease is not a food allergy or a food intolerance condition. For celiacs, going gluten-free is not a fad diet and is not something we chose to do to be trendy. It is a serious medical condition with severe consequences for those who do not follow a strict gluten-free diet on a daily basis.

Milo graphic

Milo says….

It was warm enough to go for a WALK today and I wagged a LOT! Then I got to sniff EVERYTHING and THEN Maizy gave me a COOKIE when we got home! Life is good.

 

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