Celiac Disease and Food Allergies

Celiac disease is a digestive disease that damages the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food. People with celiac disease are unable to tolerate a protein called gluten, which is found in wheat, rye, and barley. Gluten is found mainly in foods, but may also be found in products which are used every day, including stamp and envelope adhesive, medicines, and vitamins.

Because the bodys own immune system causes the damage, celiac disease is considered an autoimmune disorder. It is also classified as a disease of malabsorption because the nutrients are not absorbed. Celiac disease is also known as celiac sprue, non-tropical sprue, and gluten sensitive enteropathy.

Autoimmune Syndromes

It is important to recognize that celiac disease, gluten intolerance, and wheat allergy are all food allergies. There are several classifications of food intolerances including food allergy, autoimmune-mediated, congenital digestive disorders, and metabolic diseases. Food allergies affect 5 percent of the population. Celiac disease affects people differently.

Symptoms may occur in the digestive system or in other parts of the body. Irritability is one of the most common symptoms of celiac disease in children. Celiac disease is a genetic disease, meaning it runs in families. Sometimes the disease is triggered, or becomes active for the first time, after surgery, pregnancy, childbirth, viral infection, or severe emotional stress.

Celiac Disease Symptoms

Symptoms of celiac disease may include gas, chronic diarrhea, constipation, recurring abdominal bloating and pain, bone or joint pain, unexplained anemia, along with many more.

A person with celiac disease may also have no symptoms. People without symptoms are still at great risk for the complications of celiac disease, including malnutrition.

The longer a person goes undiagnosed and untreated, the greater the chance of developing malnutrition and other complications. Anemia, delayed growth, and the inability to gain or maintain weight are signs of malnutrition.

Recognizing celiac disease can be difficult because some of its symptoms are similar to those of other diseases. Celiac disease has been confused with irritable bowel syndrome, Crohns Disease, diverticulitis, intestinal infections, and chronic fatigue syndrome.

As a result, celiac disease is commonly misdiagnosed. Screening for celiac disease involves testing for the presence of antibodies in the blood in people without symptoms. Americans are not routinely screened for celiac disease.

Treatment

The only treatment for celiac disease is to follow a gluten free diet. When a person is first diagnosed with celiac disease, the doctor will suggest the person to work with a dietitian on a gluten free diet plan.

Someone with celiac disease can learn from a dietitian how to read ingredient lists and identify foods that contain gluten in order to make informed decisions at the grocery store or when eating out.

For most people, following a gluten free diet will stop symptoms, heal existing intestinal damage, and prevent further damage. In order to stay well, people with celiac disease must avoid gluten for the rest of their lives. Eating any gluten, no matter how small an amount, can damage the small intestine.

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