What Is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease isn’t the same thing as a food allergy, so the symptoms will differ.
If you’re allergic to wheat, you may have itchy or watery eyes or a hard time breathing if you eat something that has wheat in it.
- Abdominal pain
- Itchy blistery rash (doctors call this dermatitis herpetiformis)
- Loss of bone density
- Headaches or general fatigue
- Bone or joint pain
- Mouth ulcers
- Weight loss
In children, intestinal problems are much more common than they are for adults. These symptoms include:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Bloating or a swelling in the belly
- Pale, foul-smelling stool (steatorrhea)
- Weight loss
Not everyone with celiac disease will have these symptoms. And some people have no problems at all, which makes diagnosis very difficult.
Most people with celiac disease never know they have it. Researchers think as few as 20% of people with the disease ever get a proper diagnosis. The damage to the intestine is very slow, and symptoms are so varied, that it can be years before someone gets a diagnosis.
- Serology tests that look for certain antibodies
- Genetic testing to look for human leukocyte antigens to rule out celiac disease
If you’re already on a gluten-free diet, you’ll need to come off it before having the antibody test so the results will be accurate.
If the blood test shows you might have celiac disease, you’ll probably need to have endoscopy done. This is a procedure in which your doctor can look at your small intestine and take a little bit of tissue to see if it’s damaged.
There are no drugs that treat celiac disease. You’ll need to go on a strict gluten-free diet. In addition to staying away from bread, cake, and other baked goods, you’ll also need to avoid beer, pasta, cereals, and even some toothpastes, medications, and other products that contain gluten.
Who’s at Risk?
Celiac disease tends to run in families, as it is a genetic disorder. If you have a parent, child, brother, or sister who has celiac disease, you have a 1 in 10 chance of getting it yourself. But having the genes for celiac disease doesn’t automatically mean you’ll get it.
Sometimes, a stressful event such as a viral infection, surgery, or some emotional trauma can trigger it. It could also happen after pregnancy. Of course, you would need to be eating foods with gluten for any harm to happen.
The disease is most common among Caucasians and people who have had other diseases like Down syndrome, type 1 diabetes, Turner syndrome (a condition where a female is missing an X chromosome), Addison’s disease, or rheumatoid arthritis.