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Celiac Disease

What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is a digestive disease that damages the small intestine because of a particular sensitivity to a protein called gluten. Gluten is found in wheat, rye, barley, and oats. This hereditary disorder interferes with the absorption of nutrients from food.

Celiac disease is a genetic disease that runs in families and is more common in people of European ancestry, Caucasians, and people with type 1 diabetes. More than 2 million Americans have been diagnosed with celiac disease; however, recent studies have suggested that as many as one in every 133 Americans may have it, and that the disease is underdiagnosed.

A person can have the disease and not know it until it is triggered by severe stress, pregnancy, surgery, physical injury, infection, or childbirth.

What are the Symptoms of Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease affects people in different ways and the symptoms can appear at any time between childhood to adulthood. Symptoms may include:

  • Chronic diarrhea or constipation
  • Weight loss
  • Recurring abdominal pain and bloating
  • Gas
  • Pale, foul-smelling stool
  • Unexplained anemia
  • Muscle cramps and/or bone pain
  • Pain in the joints
  • Tingling numbness in the legs
  • Delayed growth
  • Fatigue
  • Painful skin rash
  • Missed menstrual periods
  • Tooth discoloration or loss of enamel

Since symptoms of celiac disease are similar to those of other digestive diseases such as Crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, diverticulosis, and intestinal infections, it can be difficult to diagnose. It is important to meet with a gastroenterologist to properly diagnose your symptoms.

Diagnosing Celiac Disease

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for celiac disease may include the following:

  • Blood Work: To measure the level of antibodies to gluten. Researchers have found that persons with celiac disease have higher than normal levels of certain antibodies in their blood.
  • Biopsy: To diagnose celiac disease, the doctor may remove a tiny piece of tissue from the small intestine to check for damage to the villi. During the procedure, the doctor eases a long, thin tube, called an endoscope, through the mouth and stomach into the small intestine. A sample of tissue is then taken using instruments passed through the endoscope. This procedure is considered the "gold standard" for diagnosis of celiac disease.

Next Steps

If you are living with a gluten sensitivity or intolerance, you’ll need to avoid foods and products containing gluten. At the same time, you’ll need to work with your health care provider to make sure that you're getting enough vitamins and minerals. Your health care provider can let you know if you need to take a supplement to replace any missing nutrients.

Gluten Free Food List

The National Institutes of Health offers an extensive list of foods to help avoid gluten. Some key foods include corn, flax, buckwheat, rice, millet, nuts, quinoa & soy.

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Gastroenterologists at Crozer Health are trained in some of the latest technologies and procedures to diagnose, manage and treat gastrointestinal and digestive conditions.