Celiac disease affects about one in every 100 people worldwide. As many as 2.5 million Americans may have the disease and not know it. Celiac disease can interfere with your body’s ability to absorb vital nutrients. The good news is you can treat the condition through diet alone.
WHAT IS CELIAC DISEASE?
Many people know celiac disease has something to do with gluten, but you should not mistake celiac disease for “gluten allergy” or “gluten intolerance.” Also called “celiac sprue,” celiac disease is an inherited autoimmune disorder in which the body’s response to gluten causes damage to the sensitive surface cells of the small intestine.
Your small intestine is lined with “villi,” which are finger-like protrusions of tissue that absorb nutrients from food passing through the digestive tract. If you have celiac disease, your body mounts an immune response to gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye and other grains) — as if it were a toxic substance. This immune response essentially flattens the villi, making them unable to catch and absorb essential nutrients from the food you’ve eaten.
CAUSES OF CELIAC DISEASE
Celiac disease can only be inherited. It is not a condition you can get from someone else. You are more likely to get celiac disease if one or both of your parents have the condition. You also are at higher risk if a brother or sister has the disease (because this means one of your parents carried the genetic abnormality that causes celiac disease).
Celiac disease can manifest at any age. If you discover a direct, blood relative has celiac disease (such as a parent, sibling or child of yours), you should also get tested even if you have no symptoms.
SYMPTOMS OF CELIAC DISEASE
No two people with celiac disease may exhibit the same symptoms. In general, these symptoms often are noted:
- Chronic, pale-colored, bad-smelling diarrhea
- Abdominal bloating after eating a food containing gluten
- Abdominal cramps
- Ulcers inside the mouth
DERMATITIS HERPETIFORMIS IN CELIAC DISEASE
A distinctive skin rash called “dermatitis herpetiformis” is considered a complication of celiac disease, though for some people the rash is the only manifestation of their underlying condition.
Dermatitis herpetiformis is an itchy, red rash that may occur anywhere on the body. The water-filled bumps that comprise the rash often are mistaken for herpes lesions. If you suspect you might have dermatitis herpetiformis, even if you have no intestinal symptoms of celiac disease, you should see a healthcare professional for an evaluation.
TREATMENT FOR CELIAC DISEASE
Currently, the only treatment for celiac disease is a gluten-free diet. This means you must avoid all sources of gluten in food products. Some sources of gluten include:
- Any products that contain these grains
Thousands of pre-packaged foods contain gluten, from pizza crusts to yogurt. If you’re diagnosed with celiac disease, you will want to educate yourself about the many potential sources of gluten in your diet — and also the products and foods that don’t contain any gluten. A short list of gluten-free foods includes:
- Coconut flour
- And many others
CELIAC DISEASE MEANS GLUTEN-FREE FOR LIFE
Left untreated, celiac disease can cause many health problems, including lactose intolerance and anemia. If you’ve been diagnosed with celiac disease, you should strictly follow a gluten-free diet to ensure you live healthy into old age.