What is celiac disease?
Celiac disease is an intestinal disorder caused by intolerance of gluten. Gluten is present in wheat, rye, barley, oats, and triticale. It can also be found in other foods, medications, and lipsticks.
The small intestine absorbs nutrients because of numerous finger-like projections called villi. These villi vastly increase the surface area available for absorption. In celiac disease, the body's own white blood cells attack the villi and impair the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. This causes nutrient deficiencies and intestinal symptoms such as diarrhea.
Who gets celiac disease?
Affecting about 330,000, the disease runs in families and can be “activated” by injury, infection, childbirth, surgery or severe stress. Scientists have identified a genetic link for those with celiac disease. The risk for developing celiac disease is increased 20 times for those who have a first degree relative with the disease.
What are the symptoms of celiac disease?
Celiac disease can be difficult to recognize because the symptoms vary from person to person, can affect adults and children, and can occur in the digestive system or in other parts of the body. The symptoms of celiac disease may include:
- Diarrhea (caused by excess fluid remaining in the small intestine)
- Oily or frothy stools (caused by unabsorbed fat remaining in the stool)
- Inability to gain weight
- Lactose intolerance
- Abdominal pain
- Dermatitis herpetiformis (an extremely itchy skin rash that those with celiac disease may suffer from)
How does celiac disease affect children & adults?
Symptoms of celiac disease may affect different age groups in different ways.
- An infant with celiac disease may have abdominal pain, diarrhea & fail to gain weight
- A child may experience abdominal pain, nausea, lack of appetite, anemia, mouth sores or allergic dermatitis, along with irritability
- Teenagers may reach puberty late or have growth delays
Getting a proper diagnosis
Celiac disease is difficult to diagnose because its symptoms overlap with other disorders.
New blood tests are improving the speed and accuracy of diagnosis. They can be done at your doctor's office or with a home kit that can be purchased at the pharmacy have up to 95% accuracy.
Celiac disease can only be confirmed – or ruled out – with a tissue sample (biopsy) from the small intestine during gastroscopy. This is a safe procedure in which a slim, flexible telescope is swallowed under sedation.
Gluten free – today, tomorrow, forever
Celiac disease is a life-long medical condition, so living gluten-free for life is imperative if you have it. Removing gluten from your diet can help you reduce your symptoms & lead a normal life. Children tend to heal more quickly than adults.
Read ALL labels carefully
You must also be aware of the fact that gluten is a filler in medications. This means you must learn to carefully read the labels of anything you ingest to avoid consuming gluten unknowingly. Remember to avoid foods containing wheat, rye and barley. This can be difficult as these ingredients are found in common foods such as bread, pastas, pizza, cereals, sweets, etc.
Don’t go it alone
If you’ve been diagnosed with celiac disease, it’s important to explain your condition and dietary needs to family members and friends and ask for their support. Adjusting to a gluten-free diet can be challenging, since it involves knowing what foods contain gluten, and determining possible hidden sources of gluten in food products and medications.
Try to stay positive
Remember that there are so many great foods with wonderful dietary benefits and flavours to eat. Open your eyes and mouth to new possibilities. Gluten-free foods and recipes are becoming more popular so explore your shopping and cooking options. Let the disease empower you to discover new foods and a new and healthy life.
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