What is Celiac disease?
Celiac disease is a disorder which produces an immune reaction in the body to the consumption of gluten. Gluten is a protein that is found in foods containing barley, wheat and other grains. The immune reaction is observed in the small intestine and causes damage to the villi on the inner lining which are responsible for the absorption of nutrients from food. Celiac disease, therefore, leads to malnutrition as the body is unable to process and absorb nutrients from food and this could further lead to an array of complications such as nervous disorders, miscarriage, infertility or even certain types of cancers. In children, the disease could lead to stunted growth and malnutrition if appropriate dietary changes are not made. There is no Celiac disease cure or medication to treat the condition and switching to a gluten-free diet is the only way to manage the condition.
Celiac disease Symptoms
The Signs and Symptoms of Celiac disease usually vary in children and adults. Since the disease is very different from food allergies, so are the symptoms. Celiac disease symptoms are usually observed when the person consumes something with gluten content.
- Abdominal pain: stomach aches and heartburn are very common symptoms that persons with Celiac disease complain of.
- Diarrhoea: loose and watery stools are also a common sign.
- Bloating and constipation: accumulation of gas and the inability to pass stools may indicate Celiac disease.
- Nausea and vomiting: especially after consuming a meal.
- Symptoms unrelated to digestion: many adults suffer from symptoms like mouth ulcers, deteriorating bone health, headaches, fatigue, anaemia and neurological problems.
- Symptoms in children: Symptoms in children are more related to digestion and include a swollen belly, constipation or chronic diarrhoea, gas or nausea and vomiting. Long-term symptoms in children may also include weight loss, delayed puberty, anaemia or stunted growth.
If one or more of these symptoms are experienced, it is best to call a doctor and ascertain the best course of treatment.
Who is at Risk?
There are multiple Celiac Disease Risk Factors that increase the chances of someone suffering from the disease in their lifetime. An individual is more likely to suffer from Celiac disease if he falls within any of the following categories.
- Family history (genetics may play a role if a family member has Celiac disease).
- Down’s syndrome or Turner’s syndrome
- Type 1 Diabetes
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Chronic pancreatitis
- Autoimmune hepatitis or autoimmune thyroid disease
- Intestinal cancer
- Addison’s disease
Others: there is a range of autoimmune disorders and other diseases that may also increase the risks of Celiac disease.
Celiac disease Causes
While the primary cause of Celiac disease remains unknown, a genetic factor has been proven to exist in some cases. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder where an immune reaction is triggered within the body when gluten in any form is ingested. This immune reaction attacks the inner lining of the small intestine and over time causes damage that makes it difficult for the body to properly absorb and use nutrients from food. The damage is in fact suffered by the tiny, hair-like projections on the inner wall of the small intestine called villi. These villi are responsible for the absorption of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients from the food and when they are damaged, the body is unable to do so no matter how much food is consumed. The trigger of the reaction is gluten and a gluten-free diet is the best way to manage the condition and prevent long-term damage to the small intestine.
How is Celiac Disease Diagnosed?
Celiac Disease diagnosis is extremely difficult as the damage is done is very slow and the symptoms are varied. Due to this, many individuals with the disease are not aware that they are suffering from it. In the case of children, Paediatricians will need to be consulted for the best treatment.
- In most cases, doctors will order a series of Celiac disease tests that are aimed at detecting protein antibodies in the blood indicating an immune reaction. Related problems like anaemia and iron deficiency can also be detected. It is important that the person not be on a gluten-free diet as this could lead to normal results even if the person is suffering from the disease.
- Genetic testing may also help rule out the possibility of Celiac disease.
- Endoscopy: imaging of the stomach and the small intestine may be needed to detect damage that may have been caused by Celiac disease.
How is Celiac Disease treated?
Celiac Disease Treatment is not possible with the help of any drugs or medication. The only available option is to opt for a gluten-free diet that can prevent long-term damage and the effects of the disease as well as promote intestinal healing.
- Gluten-free diet: The affected individuals must switch to a diet that eliminates all forms of gluten thereby preventing the autoimmune reaction that is characteristic of the disease. This includes all foods that are typically made of grains like noodles, pasta, baked goods, cereal and beer and so on. Such a diet must be followed lifelong but gluten thankfully is not an essential nutrient and is not found naturally in many products like milk, fish, meat, eggs, fruits or vegetables.
- Supplements: Some nutritional supplements may be suggested to compensate for the loss of nutrients due to a gluten-free diet and prevent any complications during the change in diet.
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How to Prevent Celiac disease?
There is No Medicine for Celiac disease as of now and prevention of the disease is not possible. However, some research studies have indicated that maintaining a balanced diet that is not too gluten-rich when young could help in reducing the risks of Celiac disease. The effects of Celiac disease on your body and specifically your small intestines could however be avoided by strictly following the advised diet plan.
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