Celiac Disease: More Than Gluten Intolerance


What is celiac disease?

Celiac disease is a digestive disorder caused by an abnormal immune reaction to gluten. Celiac disease is also known as:

  • sprue
  • nontropical sprue
  • gluten-sensitive enteropathy

Gluten is a protein found in foods made with wheat, barley, rye, and triticale. It is also found in oats that have been made in processing plants that handle other grains. Gluten can even be found in some medicines, vitamins, and lipsticks. Gluten Intolerance also known as gluten sensitivity, is characterized by the body’s inability to digest or break down gluten. Some people with gluten intolerance have a mild sensitivity to gluten, while others have celiac disease which is an autoimmune disorder.

In celiac disease, the immune response to gluten creates toxins that destroy the villi. Villi are tiny finger-like protrusions inside the small intestines. When the villi become damaged, the body is unable to absorb nutrients from food. This can lead to malnutrition and other serious health complications, including permanent intestinal damage.

What are the symptoms of celiac disease?

Celiac disease symptoms usually involve the intestines and digestive system, but they can also affect other parts of the body. Children and adults tend to have a different set of symptoms.

Celiac disease symptoms in adults

Adults with celiac disease may experience digestive symptoms. In most cases, however, symptoms also affect other areas of the body. These symptoms may include:

  • iron deficiency/Anemia
  • joint pain and stiffness
  • weak, brittle bones
  • fatigue
  • seizures
  • skin disorders
  • numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
  • tooth discoloration or loss of enamel
  • pale sores inside the mouth
  • irregular menstrual periods
  • infertility and miscarriage

It’s important to note that symptoms can vary from person to person depending on various factors, including:

  • the length of time someone was breast-fed as an infant
  • the age someone started eating gluten
  • the amount of gluten someone eats
  • the severity of intestinal damage

Some people with celiac disease have no symptoms. However, they may still develop long-term complications as a result of their disease.

Schedule an appointment with your doctor right away if you suspect that you or your child has celiac disease. When diagnosis and treatment are delayed, complications are more likely to occur.

Who is at risk for celiac disease?

People who have other auto immune diseases and certain genetic disorders are also more likely to have celiac disease. Some conditions associated with celiac disease include:

  • Lupus
  • RA/Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Diabetes (type 1)
  • Thyroid Disease
  • Autoimmune liver disease
  • Addison’s disease
  • Sjogren’s Syndrome
  • Down Syndrome
  • Lactose Intolerance
  • intestinal cancer
  • intestinal lymphoma


How is celiac disease diagnosed?

Diagnosis begins with a physical examination and a medical history.

Doctors will also perform various tests to help confirm a diagnosis. People with celiac disease often have high levels of antiendomysium (EMA) and anti-tissue transglutaminase (tTGA) antibodies. These can be detected with blood tests. Tests are most reliable when they’re performed while gluten is still in the diet.


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