Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease characterized by the intolerance of gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and possibly oats. When someone with celiac disease consumes gluten, their immune system responds by damaging or destroying villi (the tiny finger-like protrusions that line the small intestine) in the digestive tract. These villi enable nutrients from food to be absorbed into the bloodstream. Even short-term exposure to gluten can cause serious symptoms or consequences for someone with celiac disease.
Symptoms of Celiac disease include:
- Abdominal pain or discomfort
- Weight loss
The specific cause of celiac disease is unknown and an individual’s risk for developing the condition may vary.
- Genetics: first degree relative with celiac disease
- Medical history of: autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus and Sjogren’s syndrome; Addison’s disease; Down syndrome; Lactose intolerance; Thyroid disease; Type 1 diabetes
When to See a Doctor
Occasional abdominal distress such as cramping, bloating or diarrhea may result from a number of causes and, unless persistent, generally does not indicate digestive disease. If your symptoms have not resolved within a few days or if they recur, it’s time for a thorough evaluation and consultation with a specialist.
Treatment options for celiac disease include the following:
- Follow a special diet, free of gluten
The foremost diagnostic "test" for any condition is a thorough exam and consultation with a physician, including a review of your individual and family history. In addition, your physician may recommend any of the following tests or procedures, which may provide further diagnostic value:
- Biopsy, if needed (can be performed in conjunction with other procedures)
- Blood tests
- Upper GI Endoscopy (EGD)
Celiac disease cannot be prevented, but the symptoms and effects can be reversed and managed with dietary changes. People with celiac disease must follow a life-long gluten-free diet to maintain their health and prevent long-term complications.
Learn more about celiac disease with the following resources: