What is celiac disease?
Celiac disease is a digestive problem that hurts your small intestine. It stops your body from taking in nutrients from food.
may have celiac disease if you are sensitive to gluten. Gluten is a kind of protein. It
is found in wheat, rye, and barley. It is sometimes found in small amounts in mixed
When you have celiac disease and you eat foods with gluten, your body has a reaction that is not normal. The part of your body that fights disease (the immune system) starts to hurt your small intestine. It attacks the tiny bumps (villi) that line your small intestine.
villi help your body take in nutrients from food into your blood. Without the villi,
your small intestine can’t get enough nutrients, no matter how much food you eat.
Celiac disease is genetic. This means it can be passed down from parent to child.
Studies show that as many as 1 in every 141 Americans may have celiac disease. They may
not know they have it.
Celiac disease is more common in people:
- Whose ancestors came from Europe
- Who are white
- Who have type 1 diabetes
- Who have Down syndrome
- Who have other autoimmune diseases
can’t have children (are infertile)
- Who have irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea
What causes celiac disease?
Celiac disease is a genetic disease that runs in families. You may have celiac disease and not know it because you don’t have any symptoms.
Some things that may make symptoms start to appear are:
- Too much stress
- Physical injury
What are the symptoms of celiac disease?
Celiac disease affects people in different ways. Some have symptoms as children. Others have symptoms only as adults. Some people have diarrhea and belly (abdominal) pain. Others may feel moody or depressed.
Each person’s symptoms may vary. Common signs of celiac disease include:
- Constant (chronic) diarrhea or constipation
- Weight loss
- Pale, bad-smelling stool
- Unexplained low blood count that makes you feel tired (anemia)
- Tingling, numb feeling in the legs
- Missed menstrual periods (linked to too much weight loss)
- Weak and
brittle bones (osteoporosis) at a young age, or bone fractures
- Teeth changing color or losing their enamel
Celiac disease can be painful. Some common pain symptoms are:
- Stomach pain or swelling (bloating) that keeps coming back
- Muscle cramps or bone pain
- Pain in the joints
- Painful, itchy skin rash
Children who have celiac disease may not grow at a normal rate.
You may have celiac disease but not have any symptoms. That is because the part of your small intestine that is not hurt can still take in enough nutrients. But you may still be at risk for problems of the disease.
Celiac disease symptoms may seem like other health problems. Always see your healthcare
provider to be sure.
How is celiac disease diagnosed?
Celiac disease can be hard to diagnose. Its symptoms may seem like symptoms of other
digestive problems such as:
- Crohn’s disease
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Ulcerative colitis
- Infected colon (diverticulitis)
- Intestinal infections
- Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth
To see if you have celiac disease, your healthcare provider will look at your past health and do a physical exam. You may also have tests such as:
- Blood work. This is done to check the level of infection-fighting cells (antibodies) you have to gluten in your blood. People with celiac disease have higher than normal levels of these cells. Your immune system makes these cells to help fight things (such as gluten) that the body feels are a danger.
This is the most accurate way to tell if you have celiac disease. A tissue
sample (biopsy) is taken from your small intestine to check for damage to the villi.
To do this, a long, thin tube (endoscope) is used. it is placed in your mouth, down
to your stomach, and into your small intestine. A tissue sample is taken using tools
passed through the tube. The sample is checked in a lab.