Celiac Disease is not a food allergy (unlike true wheat allergy), it is an autoimmune disease that affects about one in 133 people. It is genetic and occurs in 5-15% of the children and siblings of a person with CD. It is recommended that family members be tested. A person with Celiac cannot digest gluten and the body reacts with an autoimmune response, attacking the gluten as well as the intestines in the process. The damage caused to the intestines makes it difficult to absorb the vitamins and nutrients from food. It can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years for the intestines to fully heal with a gluten-free diet. Celiac is often confused with or misdiagnosed as Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Crohns Disease. The Celiac Disease Foundation website has addition facts about CD: www.celiac.org
Symptoms vary widely, but these are the most common according to the Celiac Foundation (you may have one or more):
- Abdominal cramping, intestinal gas
- Distention and bloating of the stomach
- Chronic diarrhea or constipation (or both)
- Steatorrhea – fatty stools
- Anemia – unexplained, due to folic acid, B12 or iron deficiency (or all)
- Unexplained weight loss with large appetite or weight gain
- Dental enamel defects
- Osteopenia, osteoporosis
- Bone or joint pain
- Fatigue, weakness and lack of energy
- Infertility – male/female
- Mouth ulcers
- Delayed puberty
- Tingling or numbness in hands or feet
- Migraine headaches
I experienced severe, uncontrollable acid reflux (the kind that feels like a heart attack). Drugs stopped working on me and this is the chief symptom that lead me to see the gastroenterologist who diagnosed me. I also lost a great deal of weight and had no energy. Every individual story is different, if you have unexplained health problems, I highly recommend researching the possibility of a food allergy or intolerance once all other serious issues have been ruled out.
I was diagnosed with the standard blood test (that only works on a Celiac who is still eating gluten), but not everyone is. Some test positive with endoscopy procedures (I did not). If you test negative for both Celiac tests and you discover through experimenting with a gluten-free diet that gluten makes you sick, you may have gluten sensitivity. Unfortunately, there are no accurate tests for sensitivity (which can feel every bit as miserable as Celiac itself). The elimination diet can tell you.
Education and awareness are extremely important, especially given the lack of knowledge many people and doctors seem to have about it. I went to various doctors and specialists over a 15-year period without anyone ever coming up with the idea to check for Celiac. When I found a gastro who finally did decide to check me for it, I had to ask what Celiac was. I had no idea!
Celiac and gluten-intolerance/sensitivity can cause a myriad of health issues and sometimes occurs along side additional food allergies. This is an interesting article about the link between Celiac Disease and Lactose Intolerance: http://www.celiac.org/images/stories/PDF/lactose-intolerance.pdf
Long term health problems can occur for people with Celiac Disease who do not follow a gluten-free diet.
SOME LONG-TERM CONDITIONS THAT CAN RESULT FROM UNTREATED CD
- Iron deficiency anemia
- Early onset osteoporosis or osteopenia
- Vitamin K deficiency associated with risk for hemorrhaging
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
- Central and peripheral nervous system disorders – usually due to unsuspected nutrient deficiencies
- Pancreatic insufficiency
- Intestinal lymphomas and other GI cancers (malignancies)
- Gall bladder malfunction
- Neurological manifestations
Information on recent research is found in this interesting article: click here