Celiac disease (also known as gluten intolerance) is an under diagnosed disease affecting
about 1% of the population. The disease is caused by eating gluten, which is found in wheat, rye, and barley. Celiac disease can be seen at any age, in both children and adults. It is important to know that Celiac disease is considered an autoimmune disease, not a food allergy, and people do not “outgrow it”.
The symptoms of Celiac disease can be very different, depending on the person. Common symptoms include diarrhea, bloating, greasy stool, low blood count (anemia), abdominal pain/discomfort, vitamin and nutrient deficiencies, and weak bones (osteoporosis). Occasionally, people are misdiagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) because their symptoms often overlap with Celiac disease symptoms. For unknown reasons, it is estimated that two to three times as many women have Celiac disease compared to men. The number of people being diagnosed with this condition is increasing, likely from more people being tested.
The most accurate method to diagnose Celiac disease is to detect characteristic abnormalities on the biopsy of the small intestine and improvement of symptoms with avoiding gluten in the diet. Blood testing is a common to evaluate for Celiac disease in someone with symptoms. If the blood test is abnormal, then a biopsy of the small intestine is done by performing an upper endoscopy if necessary to confirm the diagnosis.
Accurate diagnosis is extremely important because treatment means avoiding gluten-containing foods for life. This strict diet change is difficult for people to maintain because gluten-containing foods are found in many common foods. Meats, dairy products, fruits, and vegetables are naturally gluten-free. Certain grains, such as rice, buckwheat, corn, and oats are also well tolerated. Unfortunately there are no medications available for the treatment of Celiac disease.
Please refer to the Celiac Disease Foundation website at www.celiac.org for more information.