Celiac disease affects 1% of healthy, average Americans. This means at least 3 million people are living with Celiac disease and 97% of them are probably undiagnosed. To put Celiac Disease in perspective, consider these facts from the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center.
- Type 1 Diabetes affects 3 million people. 6% (180,000) of those diagnosed also have Celiac disease.
- 610,000 women in the U.S. experience unexplained infertility. 6% (36,600) of these women might never know that Celiac disease is the cause.
- 350,000 people in the United States have Down Syndrome. 12% (42,000) of them also have Celiac disease.
- The number of people with Celiac disease in the U.S. would fill 4,400 Boeing 747 airplanes.
- The number of people with Celiac disease in the U.S is about equal to the number of people living in the state of Nevada.
What is Celiac Disease?
According to the University of Chicago,
Celiac disease is an inherited autoimmune disorder that affects the digestive process of the small intestine. When a person who has Celiac disease consumes gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley, the individual’s immune system responds by attacking the small intestine and inhibiting the absorption of important nutrients into the body. Undiagnosed and untreated, Celiac disease can lead to the development of other autoimmune disorders as well as osteoporosis, infertility, neurological conditions and in rare cases, cancer.
When the immune system overreacts to gluten the villi that line the small intestine are damaged. These villi are tiny, hair-like projections that absorb vitamins, minerals and nutrients from food. This results in the body being unable to absorb nutrients needed for growth and health.
Could You Have Celiac Disease?
Signs & Symptoms
There is no one sign or symptom that can for sure indicate a person has Celiac disease. In fact, the signs and symptoms of this disease can vary greatly. Classic signs include diarrhea and weight loss although most people who have Celiac disease experience few or no digestive signs or symptoms. Only 1/3 of people diagnosed with Celiac experience diarrhea and only about half will have weight loss. 20% experience constipation and 10% are obese. Other signs and symptoms of Celiac disease include:
- Loss of bone density
- Itchy, blistery skin rash
- Damage to dental enamel
- Headaches and fatigue
- Acid reflux and heart burn
Celiac in Children
75% of children with Celiac disease are overweight or obese. Digestive signs and symptoms are more prevalent in children with Celiac disease and they often will experience diarrhea and constipation in addition to short stature and delayed puberty.
Celiac disease is more common in individuals who have:
- A family member with Celiac disease or Dermatitis Herpetiformis
- Type 1 diabetes
- Down syndrome
- An autoimmune thyroid disease
There are a few different tests that can be done to determine if you might have Celiac Disease.
- Blood Tests. High levels of certain antibodies in the blood can indicate an immune response to gluten.
- Endoscopy. A doctor might order an endoscopy if your blood work indicates you could have Celiac disease. They may take a sample of your small intestine to analyze the villi.
- Capsule endoscopy. This method uses a tiny, wireless camera to photograph your small intestine. You swallow the capsule and the camera takes thousands of pictures that are transmitted to a recorder.
The main complication of Celiac disease is nutrient deficiency. When Celiac disease goes untreated, any of the following can occur.
- Malnutrition. Small intestine damage that occurs leads to poor nutrient absorption. This can also lead to anemia and weight loss. Malnutrition can be especially harmful to children as it can delay growth and stunt development.
- Loss of calcium and bone density. Intestinal damage makes it more difficult to absorb calcium and vitamin D which can lead to bone softening and eventually osteoporosis.
- Infertility and miscarriage. Trouble absorbing vitamin D and calcium can also play a role in reproductive issues.
- Lactose intolerance. Small intestine damage may cause abdominal pain and diarrhea after eating foods that contain lactose. This can happen even if the foods don’t contain gluten.
- Cancer. Intestinal lymphoma and small bowel cancer may be more prevalent in people with Celiac disease who do not maintain a gluten-free diet.
The most important thing for people with Celiac is to eat a gluten-free diet. Wheat contains gluten but gluten can also be found in Barley, Bulgar, Durum, Farina, Graham Flour, Malt, Rye, Semolina, Spelt and Triticale.
People with severe nutritional deficiencies may also benefit from supplements such as:
No two cases of Celiac disease are the same. The signs and symptoms are different in everyone and it’s important to talk with your healthcare provider to determine the treatment that is best for you.
Do you have Celiac disease? Leave a comment below, we’d love to hear your story!