What Is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that is caused by an abnormal response to gluten, a protein usually found in baked goods and pasta. Celiac can cause uncomfortable symptoms, and treatment usually consists of dietary changes. Read to learn more.

7 minute read

Last Updated July 13, 2020

What Is Celiac Disease - Immunity - 1MD

Celiac disease is an autoimmune digestive disorder that is caused by an abnormal immune response to the protein gluten. This protein is found in wheat products, and because of sensitivity to this protein, inflammation along the intestinal wall occurs when it is present. 

Celiac disease also causes the production of toxins that destroy the small projections in your gut responsible for nutrient absorption. As a result, you are at risk of malnutrition and other serious health complications.

Celiac Disease Causes

Gluten is the cause of celiac disease, or more specifically, the sensitivity and inability to digest gluten. When present, the immune system mistakenly identifies gluten as foreign, which triggers an inflammatory response. 

Your body’s overreaction to gluten can be genetic or can develop in association with other autoimmune diseases, diabetes, emotional stress, or after surgery or a severe viral infection.

Celiac disease is not the same as gluten sensitivity, which causes a less severe reaction when gluten is consumed.

Celiac Disease Symptoms

Symptoms of celiac disease vary across individuals. They will depend on the amount of gluten eaten, as well as the level of sensitivity you have. Some people have a greater sensitivity, which means more intestinal damage will occur and therefore more severe symptoms. 

In some cases, people display no symptoms, which are dangerous as complications can occur without realization. When symptoms are present, they typically include:

♦ Itchy and blistering skin, known as celiac disease rash
♦ Frequent digestive issues like bloating, cramping, diarrhea, and constipation
♦ Weak or brittle bones
Fatigue
♦ Joint pain and stiffness
♦ Iron-deficiency anemia
♦ Irregular menstrual periods

Celiac Disease Diagnosis

Celiac disease tests include blood tests, cholesterol tests, serum albumin tests, and liver function analysis. When celiac disease is present, people will register high levels of EMA and tTGA antibodies during these tests. 

Your doctor will also discuss your symptoms, their severity, and when they started as well as to conduct a physical examination. Often gastrointestinal specialists are involved once a diagnosis is made to help develop the best treatment plan.  

Treatment for Celiac Disease

Removing gluten from your diet is the only way to successfully treat celiac disease. This helps your intestines to heal to prevent further inflammation and disease. Once healed, you will be able to properly absorb nutrients again and regain health. 

It is important to remember that reintroducing gluten to your system at any time will cause damage and reverse the healing you have achieved. It is also important not to remove gluten until a diagnosis has been made because prematurely cutting it from your diet can interfere with accurate testing. 

Celiac Disease Diet

A gluten-free diet and strict adherence to this diet is necessary for optimal health. By following this diet, you will notice a reduction in symptoms, including fatigue, bloating, headaches, and digestive aches and pains. 

Foods that are known to contain gluten include:

♦ Baked goods, both savory and sweet
♦ Desserts such as brownies, cakes, pies, and pastries
♦ Pasta including egg noodles and ramen noodles
♦ Snacks like pita chips, crackers, and pretzels

There are also many foods that contain gluten that you may not be aware of. If you have celiac disease, you must buy items that are labeled as gluten-free, or check ingredient labels to make sure there is no gluten. 

Some foods can also be easily cross-contaminated with gluten, such as commercially fried foods. The best foods to include in your celiac diet are those that fight inflammation and promote digestive health. These include:

♦ Animal proteins, especially lean proteins like poultry, fish, eggs
♦ Healthy fats and oils
♦ Fresh fruits and vegetables
♦ Gluten-free products
♦ Legumes 
♦ Nuts and seeds of any kind

Natural Treatments for Celiac Disease

Dietary changes are the most effective at treating celiac disease, but there are also natural remedies available to help. 

Papain supplements: Papain is an enzyme that stimulates the digestive enzymes so that your body can properly identify gluten. In doing so, the immune system does not overreact as much, so symptoms are reduced if gluten is ever-present.  

Fish oil: These supplements help to heal the lining and any damage done to your intestines. The compounds in fish oil serve to fight both inflammation and oxidative damage, which are both common in celiac disease. 

Yogurt: This is full of beneficial bacteria that are known to promote gut health and strength. Having more beneficial bacteria in your gut helps to increase nutrient absorption and improve the health of the villi lining your gut wall.

What Are the Variations of Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is the same for all people of different ages, races, and health statuses. The only variation of the disease is refractory celiac disease (RCD). This is a more serious and complex version that does not respond to a gluten-free diet and other typical treatments. 

RCD is usually diagnosed after the age of 50, and can only be identified as a result if elimination testing. Treatment for this severe type of celiac disease involves a special liquid diet consisting of nutrients that do not require digestion.

Celiac Disease Statistics

♦ Celiac disease affects approximately 13 million Americans.

♦ There is a 1 in 22 chance of you getting celiac disease if you have a first-degree relative (parent, child, or sibling) with the disease too.

♦ 1 percent of those diagnosed have refractory celiac disease, which is a more fatal version if left untreated.

♦ Chances of developing celiac disease increase as you get older.

♦ Most cases of celiac disease are diagnosed after the age of 20.

Celiac Disease and Children

Celiac disease can be diagnosed in children as well as adults. Children with this condition will often have delayed puberty and growth issues as a result of malnutrition. They are also likely to be irritable, fatigued much of the time, and will experience stomach pains, bloating, persistent bowel troubles, and weight loss. 

Children are treated through administration and adherence to a gluten-free diet. When diagnosed early enough, diet can be changed early to prevent any disruption to growth and development. 

What Is the Long-Term Outlook?

Celiac disease can develop in anyone, but genetics can increase your risk. If left untreated, celiac disease can cause permanent intestinal damage. This is a more serious problem for those not showing symptoms and is unaware of the disease’s presence. 

There is no cure, and the long-term outlook varies according to the severity and how early you start treatment. Adhering to a strict gluten-free diet is the best way to maintain health and live a long and happy life.

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