Celiac Disease And Children
Patricia Zifferblatt | July 15, 2008

Celiac disease, also known as celiac sprue or gluten-sensitive enteropathy, is an autoimmune disease of the small intestine that can affect both children and adults. Most cases of celiac disease are caused by a specific defect in a gene. Almost all celiac patients carry the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) DQ2 and DQ8 genes; your doctor can order genetic tests to confirm the diagnosis. As a result of this genetic mutation, foods that contain a protein found in grains such as wheat induce an allergic reaction. Celiac can affect people of all ages--even children--with symptoms that can include diarrhea, weight loss, failure to thrive, and fatigue.

One of the main symptoms for small children with celiac disease is the failure to thrive. One of the first signs of an intestinal problem is when the child doesn’t attain the weight and height for a healthy child according to the growth charts. In this case, the parent must consult with a doctor to rule out other causes--failure to involve the physician can put the child at risk. Celiac disease can be controlled with a specific dietary plan that will ensure the proper absorption of nutrition for the child.

When a teen-ager begins to show signs or symptoms of celiac disease, a doctor will order tests to rule out other diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease and will check for food allergies.

One of the classic signs of celiac disease is diarrhea that is very bulky, pale in color, and very malodorous. Some children may experience abdominal pain, cramping, mouth sores, and a distended abdomen during a flare-up. This is due to the damage being done to the bowel where digestion and absorption takes place. This damage can result in malnutrition. The child usually experiences a loss of weight or a failure to progress and grow. In addition, extreme fatigue and anemia can occur. Any child who has these symptoms should be taken to the doctor. This will enable the child, the parent, and doctor to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan in place. That treatment plan will include a lifelong special diet and lifestyle plan; some foods will become off limits.

Celiac disease is not curable, but it is manageable. Children and adults can lead normal, healthy lives by following the right dietary and lifestyle changes.
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