More than 3 million Americans have celiac disease, but many more are likely undiagnosed. Celiac disease is a chronic autoimmune disorder that affects the small intestine. People with celiac disease cannot tolerate gluten. When they eat foods or use products that contain gluten, their immune system reacts by damaging the villi—the tiny, finger-like projections that line the small intestine. Damaged villi make it difficult for the body to absorb nutrients from food. Celiac disease is also known as celiac sprue, nontropical sprue, and gluten-sensitive enteropathy. There is no cure for celiac disease, but the good news is that it can be managed by following a gluten-free diet.
Celiac Disease’s Symptoms
There are many symptoms of celiac disease, which can vary in severity. They may include:
- Abdominal bloating
- Weight loss or gain
- Bone or joint pain
- Depression or anxiety
- Mouth ulcers
- Missed menstrual periods in women
- Mouth sores on the tongue or cheeks
- Skin rash (dermatitis herpetiformis)
- Intestinal blockage.
They may occur immediately after eating or may be delayed for hours or even days. Some people have mild symptoms, while others have very severe ones. People with celiac disease often have other autoimmune disorders such as type 1 diabetes or thyroid disease. Celiac disease is a genetic disorder—meaning it runs in families—but only about 1 percent of people who have first-degree relatives with the condition develop it themselves. Most people with celiac disease are diagnosed as adults, but children can also develop the disorder.
How is celiac disease diagnosed?
Celiac disease can be challenging to diagnose because symptoms can vary from person to person and may be similar to other digestive disorders. You must see a doctor or other healthcare provider for a diagnosis if you think you may have celiac disease. They will likely ask about your medical history and symptoms. They may order a blood test to look for specific antibodies. A small intestine biopsy may also be done to confirm the diagnosis.
Your doctor may order a blood test that looks for particular antibodies called tTG-IgA and EMA-IgA. These antibodies are produced in response to gluten and are often found in people with celiac disease. A genetic test for celiac disease can help determine if you are at risk for developing the condition. The test looks for a specific gene called HLA-DQ2 or HLA-DQ8. If you have this gene, you are more likely to develop celiac disease.
Other tests that may diagnose celiac disease include endoscopy and capsule endoscopy. Endoscopy is a procedure in which a thin, flexible tube with a light and camera at the end is inserted through the mouth and down into the stomach and small intestine. This can help doctors see if there is damage to the small intestine. Capsule endoscopy is a newer test in which a small, battery-powered camera is swallowed and takes pictures of the small intestine as it moves through. This can help doctors see if there is damage to the small intestine that may not be visible on an endoscopy.
What is a gluten-free diet?
A gluten-free diet is the only treatment for celiac disease. This means avoiding all foods containing gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. For some people with celiac disease, even trace amounts of gluten can trigger symptoms. Following a gluten-free diet can be challenging, but many resources and products are available to help.
The first step is to learn which foods contain gluten and how to read food labels.
Looking for gluten on food labels can be tricky, but there are a few things you can look for. The most common ingredients that contain gluten are wheat, barley, and rye. However, gluten can also be hidden in other ingredients, such as malt, dextrin, and hydrolyzed vegetable protein. It’s important to read food labels carefully to ensure that all ingredients are gluten-free. Many companies now have gluten-free products or labels indicating gluten-free products.
Adhering to a gluten-free diet can be difficult. Still, it’s important to remember that it’s the only treatment for celiac disease. A gluten-free diet will help heal your gut and prevent further damage. It may also help to relieve symptoms and improve your overall health.
How to cope when eating out or traveling
Eating out and traveling can be challenging when you have celiac disease, but there are some things you can do to make it easier. When traveling, it’s important to pack plenty of gluten-free snacks and meals. This will help ensure that you have something to eat when you’re on the go. Many gluten-free options are available, such as snack bars, chips, and cookies. You can also pack homemade gluten-free meals, such as sandwiches, salads, and soups. It’s a good idea to pack various snacks and meals so that you have something for every occasion.
If you’re eating out, ask about the restaurant’s gluten-free options. Many restaurants now have gluten-free menus or can accommodate special requests. When in doubt, it’s best to err on the side of caution and avoid ordering anything that may contain gluten.
Following a gluten-free diet can be challenging, but it’s crucial if you have celiac disease. With some planning and preparation, you can ensure plenty of safe and delicious food options.
Resources for people with celiac disease
If you have been diagnosed with celiac disease, many resources are available to help you navigate your new gluten-free diet. The Celiac Disease Foundation offers a variety of educational materials, including a starter kit, cookbook, and food guide.
- The Gluten Intolerance Group also provides resources and support for people with celiac disease.
- And the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness offers a variety of programs and services to help people with celiac disease live healthy, gluten-free lives.
You must see a doctor or other healthcare provider for a diagnosis if you think you may have celiac disease.