What Is Celiac Disease?
Patricia Zifferblatt | June 1, 2006

Celiac disease, also known as celiac sprue or gluten-sensitive enteropathy, is a form of gluten intolerance (an inability to digest gluten) that commonly results in recurring stomach cramps and diarrhea. Gluten is a sticky protein that provides cohesiveness to the dough of pasta, breads, and other food products that contain wheat, rye, barley, and other grains.

Simple gluten intolerance produces stomach upset (diarrhea and sometimes vomiting); celiac disease, which often causes gastrointestinal upset, is classified as an autoimmune disorder and can place people at a lifetime risk for a range of serious illnesses, including anemia, osteoporosis, and even cancer. Celiac disease increases the risk for these illnesses because the immune system repeatedly reacts against gluten, eventually damaging the walls of the small intestine so that it cannot fully absorb the vitamins and other nutrients that are necessary to good health.

How do I know if I have celiac disease?
In addition to stomach cramps and diarrhea, other signs of celiac disease may include constant fatigue, bone or joint pain, frequent fractures, weight loss, depression, and other neurological problems. It’s one of those diseases that often runs in families, so if any of your relatives have it and you have any of those symptoms, you need to see your doctor to be tested.

Initial screening for the disease is done through a series of blood tests, known as the Celiac Blood Panel, which looks for high levels of several gluten antibodies. Sometimes general physical examinations and standard blood tests will be normal in a personal suffering from celiac disease and additional screening is required; in that case, your doctor will order a comprehensive gastrointestinal panel before a diagnosis is confirmed.

What if I just live with it?
Untreated celiac disease can result in vitamin and iron deficiencies as well as osteoporosis and cancer--this is one problem you can’t just ignore. See your doctor!

Will I have to take medication?
Celiac is a highly manageable disease--the good news is it can be controlled by diet alone. Vigilance is an integral part of any gluten-free lifestyle, and the recent surge of cookbooks and resources available to people with celiac disease makes living with this condition easier than ever before.

  1. Gluten-Free 101 by Carol Fenster, Ph.D.
  2. www.celiac.org
  3. www.csaceliacs.org
  4. www.gluten.net
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