What is celiac disease?

Gluten intolerance, also commonly referred to as gluten sensitivity, is a digestive disease that is characterized by digestive distress when consuming food that contains gluten. Gluten is a common protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Up to 15 percent of the population has a gluten sensitivity, many without a diagnosis.

Celiac disease, an autoimmune disease, is the most severe case of gluten intolerance. It affects approximately 1 percent of the population and can have serious complications.

Causes of celiac disease

The exact cause of gluten intolerance or celiac disease is unknown but can be triggered by surgery, pregnancy, childbirth, severe emotional stress or viral infection.

An infection or other environmental factor can cause small intestine changes, and then if this person eats gluten, it can trigger an immune system response. Left undiagnosed, this can cause digestion problems in the long term.

Risk factors for celiac disease

Celiac disease is genetic, so you are at higher risk for developing the condition if you have a family member with celiac disease.

Other conditions that may increase your risk are:

  • Down syndrome
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Autoimmune thyroid disease

Symptoms of celiac disease

Symptoms of celiac disease can be serious and need immediate attention and treatment. They include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Gas
  • Constipation
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Diagnosis of celiac disease

Celiac disease can be diagnosed with a primary care doctor or gastroenterologist. Your doctor will likely perform an endoscopic biopsy where a portion of the small intestine is biopsied to determine if the damage sustained is consistent with celiac disease.

To confirm the diagnosis, your doctor will evaluate you after being on a gluten-free diet to see if your symptoms have improved.

Treatment for celiac disease

The only treatment for celiac disease is a very strict gluten-free diet. People with celiac disease can develop symptoms from even the tiniest amount of gluten in their diet, such as using cooking utensils that were also used for cooking food with gluten on them.

If you are diagnosed with celiac disease, it is important to schedule regular health appointments to monitor your progress and determine if you have any nutritional deficiencies associated with the condition.

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