Celiac disease is an allergy to the protein that is called gluten. When a person with celiac disease eats a food that has gluten in it, his or her natural defence system (immune system) attacks the cells that line the small intestine. Over time, this reaction damages the small intestine and makes the small intestine unable to absorb nutrients from food.
Gluten is found in wheat, rye, and barley and in foods like pasta, pizza, and cereal. Celiac disease is also known as celiac sprue, nontropical sprue, and gluten-sensitive enteropathy.
This condition is caused by a gene that is passed down through families (inherited).
This condition is more likely to develop in people who have a family member with the disease.
Symptoms of this condition include:
- Recurring bloating and pain in the abdomen.
- Long-term (chronic) diarrhoea.
- Pale, bad-smelling, greasy, or oily stool.
- Weight loss.
- Missed menstrual periods.
- Weakening bones (osteoporosis).
- Fatigue and weakness.
- Tingling or other signs of nerve damage.
- Poor appetite.
In some cases, there are no symptoms.
This condition is diagnosed with a physical exam and tests. Tests may include:
- Blood tests to check for nutritional deficiencies.
- Blood tests to look for evidence that the body is attacking cells in the small intestine.
- A test in which a sample of tissue is taken from the small bowel and examined under a microscope (biopsy).
- X-rays of the bowel.
- Stool tests.
- Tests to check for nutrient absorption from the intestine.
There is no cure for this condition, but it can be managed with a gluten-free diet. Treatment may also involve avoiding dairy foods, such as milk and cheese, because they are hard to digest. Most people who follow a gluten-free diet feel better and stop having symptoms. The intestine usually heals within 3 months to 2 years.
In a small percentage of people, this condition does not improve on the gluten-free diet. If your condition does not improve, more tests will be done. You will also need to work with a specialist in celiac disease to find the best treatment for you.
- Follow instructions from your health care provider about diet.
- Monitor your body’s response to the gluten-free diet. Write down any changes in your symptoms and changes in how you feel.
- If you decide to eat outside of the home, prepare your meal ahead of time, or make sure that the place where you are going has gluten-free options.
- Keep all follow-up visits as told by your health care provider. This is important.
- Suggest to family members that they get screened for early signs of the disease.
- You continue to have symptoms, even when you are eating a gluten-free diet.
- You have trouble sticking to the gluten-free diet.
- You develop an itchy rash with groups of tiny blisters.
- You develop severe weakness.
- You develop balance problems.
- You develop new symptoms.