celiac disease

Celiac disease is a chronic, autoimmune disease of the digestive tract that damages the villi of the small intestine and interferes with absorption of all nutrients from food. It is not the same as having gluten sensitivity! Gluten sensitivity is similar to lactose intolerance. Your body can’t break down gluten, but you can take enzymes that help your body break down gluten. In addition, you do not have an allergic reaction to eating gluten.

Celiac disease, however, is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks itself when a person with celiac disease consumes even the smallest amount of gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. The average time that it takes for someone to get diagnosed with celiac disease is 10 years, and only 1 in 6 people who have celiac disease get diagnosed.

There is NO CURE for celiac disease! However, you can manage most of your symptoms by sticking to a strict gluten free diet. When I say, “very strict, gluten free diet,” I really mean strict! You can’t cross contaminate anything! This means that you can’t take the bread off a sandwich and eat whatever was in it. You can’t use the same butter if someone put bread crumbs in the container. Never use the same oven, toaster, or microwave when someone just toasted, baked, or nuked a non-gluten free food. Think sterile like a hospital, but with food. Don’t eat anything that was contaminated by a non-gulten free food!

Celiac disease can be triggered at any time, so make sure that you talk to your doctor if you have some of the symptoms. The sooner that you are diagnosed, the better! The longer you consume gluten with celiac disease, the more damage it will cause to your body.

I’d also like to mention that people who are diagnosed with celiac disease can NOT join the military. After talking with several army, navy, and air force recruiters, they have said that people with celiac disease can neither be drafted nor volunteer for military service because the military can’t compensate them with a gluten free diet. However, they have said that people who are already in the service prior to being diagnosed with celiac disease are allowed to continue their service. In addition, since less than 1% of Americans have the disease, it is unlikely that the military will add a gluten free diet any time soon.

Who’s At Risk?

Scientists don’t completely understand what triggers celiac disease. They believe that it is mostly genetic. Some believe that GMOs are to blame. Regardless, patients with specific genes develop the disease after exposure to gluten. There is some evidence that earlier exposure in infancy causes more severe cases of celiac disease than later exposure. Family members who have celiac disease in their family are much more likely to develop celiac disease over time, especially whose family members are descended from Europe or the Middle East.

It is estimated that 1% of the American population suffers from celiac disease, and that number has been increasing since the 1990s. Ethnic Europeans and Middle Eastern patients are more likely to develop celiac disease. In Asia and Africa, celiac disease has not been diagnosed in patients who do not have European ancestry. Learn more about who is at the highest risk of getting celiac disease by reading the worldwide variation frequency of celiac disease.

*If the above link sends you to the Medscape login page instead of the article, then just copy: Worldwide Variation in the Frequency of Celiac Disease, and paste it in google search. The article should be the first result, and it should have a link to medscape.

Symptoms

Symptoms vary among patients. Every body is different. Adults and children have different symptoms, so don’t expect to have the same symptoms as others.

Symptoms for adults may include but are not limited to:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • seizures
  • weakness and fatigue (chronic)
  • irritability or mood swings
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • lactose intolerance
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • headaches or migraines
  • insomnia
  • abdominal cramping or bloating
  • missed menstrual periods
  • infertility or miscarriages
  • sores in the mouth
  • severe anxiety or depression (chronic)
  • arthritis or joint and bone pain
  • numbness in the hands or feet
  • bone loss
  • weight loss
  • vitamin d deficiency
  • calcium deficiency
  • anemia
  • constipation and/or diarrhea
  • pale, fatty, and foul smelling stools
  • loss of enamel and gum recession
  • skin rashes and dermatitis herpetiformis

Symptoms for children may include but are not limited to:

  • vomiting
  • constipation
  • seizures
  • weakness and fatigue
  • failure to thrive
  • weight loss
  • irritability or mood swings
  • delayed growth or puberty
  • loss of enamel and gum recession
  • ADHD
  • anxiety or depression
  • headaches or migraines

Testing

If you suspect that you have celiac disease, then call your primary doctor and tell him why you suspect having celiac disease. You can also ask for a simple blood test to look for an allergy to wheat and gluten:

  • gAtTG: Immunoglobulin A (IgA) anti-tissue transglutaminase (tTG) antibody
  • IgAEMA: Immunoglobulin A (IgA) antiendomysial antibody (EMA)

You can also ask them to check your vitamin d levels, a complete blood count to test for anemia, a chemistry screen to look for mineral and electrolyte imbalances, a thyroid test, and other tests to rule out other diseases. Check with your insurance company to see which tests they cover before you have your doctor order any tests.

You can also request a gastroenterologist to do an intestinal biopsy of your small intestine to confirm celiac disease. Unfortunately, the doctor may ask you to consume gluten prior to this test so that they can see your body react to the consumption of gluten.

Do NOT take this disease lightly! From someone who may have had it my whole life, please, if you think that you have it, then get tested today! For further reading, please go to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. I also recommend you read Gluten Freedom by Alessio Fasano, America’s leading celiac disease specialist. Dr. Fasano’s book is very informative, and he believes that they are close to finding a treatment for celiac disease!

Sources:

“Celiac Disease.” www.niddk.gov. June 2015.

Fasano, Alessio. Gluten Freedom. New York: Turner Publishing Company, 2014.

Let’s Hear From You!

Personally, I’ve experienced headaches, severe heartburn, skin rashes, joint pain, muscle and stomach cramps, dizziness, anxiety, and a few other problems after eating gluten. Some symptoms would either last for hours or days, while other symptoms still persist even after a few years of being on a gluten free diet. As of today, I only know of one other relative that has celiac disease, but I suspect that there may be a few other people in my family who have it, or they at least have a sensitivity to it.

What about you? Do you have celiac disease? What are your symptoms? How many people do you know have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity? How did you find out? How are you coping with it? Do you know any good gluten free recipes?!