Celiac disease is something that’s often in the news, but it’s also one of the least understood health conditions. While it has fueled a massive gluten-free trend in food products, it’s often confused with food allergies and intolerances. And while it seems that concerns about this condition are recent, health professionals actually began identifying the disease as far back as the mid-1800s. Today, approximately one percent of Americans have been diagnosed with celiac disease, though it?s likely far more people have it and have just gone undiagnosed.
To avoid being part of the 83 percent of people who go undiagnosed, it’s important to understand what celiac is, and isn’t, and to recognize its symptoms. Here are the most common questions that you might have celiac disease. Of course, if you regularly experience any of the symptoms described below, it’s best to consult with a medical professional for management options.
What Is Celiac Disease?
First off, it’s good to know what celiac disease is. Celiac is a genetic autoimmune disease that damage part of the small intestine and interferes with nutrient absorption. Because it’s genetic, it’s something that can be passed down from parent to child, but it’s not necessarily something you can contract.
When someone with celiac disease eats gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, their immune system misidentifies the protein and attacks the small intestine’s villi, which are designed to absorb nutrients from food. When the immune system attacks the villi, though, they can’t do their job and can cause severe symptoms and long-term health issues.
What Are the Symptoms of Celiac Disease?
Unfortunately, the symptoms of celiac disease are common to other health issues, and patients often go undiagnosed for years. These symptoms include:
- Diarrhea: This is the most widely experienced symptom for patients with celiac disease. We’re not talking about something that passes once in a while, though. People with celiac disease often experience it chronically.
- Bloating: Another common symptom, celiac disease patients often experience intestinal bloating and excessive gas. This is usually due to inflammation in the digestive tract, again, caused by the body’s autoimmune system attacking the intestine.
- Iron-deficiency Anemia: Because celiac disease impairs nutrient absorption, it’s common for patients to develop anemia, which in itself can lead to fatigue, headaches, chest pains, and other symptoms.
- Itchy rashes: One of the less common symptoms of celiac disease is the development of itchy rashes, particularly on the elbows, knees, and buttocks.
How to Manage Celiac Disease
Because the main symptoms are caused by ingesting gluten, the most obvious way to manage the disease is to adopt a gluten-free diet. That means no bread, pasta, cakes, beer, whiskey, crackers, and other things that use flour or other products derived from wheat, barley, or rye.
However, there are many gluten-free alternatives available for many of these products, often made with rice or other gluten-free grains. Proteins like those found in meat, dairy, and eggs are all fine. And, of course, a healthy diet includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. You can also eat most nuts and beans for additional protein and nutrients.
We can diagnose the symptoms to determine the cause and develop a personalized diet to help you minimize their effects on your everyday life.