Celiac disease, also called celiac sprue or gluten intolerance, is an autoimmune condition that occurs when affected people eat food containing gluten protein. Gluten occurs in wheat, barley, rye and other grains in those families.
If you have celiac disease, your immune system responds to those proteins by damaging the small intestine and preventing you from absorbing nutrients properly.
Untreated, celiac disease can cause ongoing gastrointestinal distress symptoms. People with celiac disease can develop anemia, osteoporosis, vitamin deficiencies, and liver enzyme abnormalities, and they also have an increased risk of developing small intestine and esophageal cancers.
At least 3 million Americans have celiac disease.
What are the symptoms of celiac disease?
Celiac disease can cause a number of symptoms including:
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Floating stools
- Particularly odorous stools
- Unexpected weight loss
- Lingering skin rashes
Each person can have different celiac disease symptoms, and children and adults can have greatly differing experiences with celiac disease. Celiac disease symptoms frequently mimic those of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), so most people with suspected IBS need a test to check for celiac disease.
How is celiac disease diagnosed?
Celiac disease diagnosis depends on your symptoms and what the experts at NVG suspect as the source of your issues. If celiac disease is a possibility but your symptoms likely stem from another condition, you’ll typically have specific antibody blood tests. If you have a normal blood test, it’s usually sufficient confirmation that the problem is something other than celiac disease.
But, if the team strongly suspects celiac disease or another digestive disease, they’ll likely recommend an endoscopy procedure, an examination of your small intestine using a long tube with a built-in tiny camera. An endoscopy usually includes a biopsy, in which the team takes a tiny sample of small intestine tissue for testing.
If you’re unable to undergo endoscopy, you may have a capsule endoscopy, in which you swallow a pill-like device containing a miniature camera that records its movement through your digestive tract.
How is celiac disease treated?
Although there’s no cure for celiac disease, a strict gluten-free diet can prevent symptoms and encourage healing in your gastrointestinal tract. It’s becoming easier to find gluten-free foods and determine an eating plan you can live with. There are many hidden sources of gluten, including some medications, so strict label reading can go a long way in protecting against celiac symptoms.