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Celiac Disease

Disease Summary:

Celiac disease is a chronic digestive illness that causes inflammation or irritation of the small intestine, which causes difficulty with absorbing nutrients from the diet.  Celiac disease is considered an autoimmune disorder, which simply means the body's immune system is turning itself on.  When gluten containing food arrives in the small intestine, the immune system reacts against the gluten causing an inflammatory reaction within the wall of the intestine.  This results in a decrease in the absorption of nutrients from food.  Gluten is found in wheat, barley, and rye.  Oats are not considered to be harmful to persons with celiac disease.  However, with the possibility of contamination with other grains containing gluten, oats are not typically recommended.  When gluten is removed from the diet, the small intestine begins to heal, and there will be proper absorption of the nutrients.


The time when an individual develops symptoms varies from patient to patient.  Those with type 1 diabetes, thyroid disorders, or relatives with celiac disease are at greater risk of developing celiac disease.  The symptoms are highly variable.  Some individuals may have mild symptoms while others may have more severe symptoms.  Symptoms may include abdominal pain, bloating and gas, diarrhea, weight loss, anemia, and low vitamin levels.  Celiac disease can cause symptoms that are similar to irritable bowel syndrome.


Celiac disease can be diagnosed with specific antibody tests.  If blood tests are normal than other tests are usually not necessary.  Confirming a diagnosis of celiac disease requires taking a biopsy or tissue sample of the small intestine during endoscopy.  This involves the insertion of a thin flexible tube (endoscope) through the mouth into the stomach and small intestine.  This is usually done with sedation.  The tissue samples taken are examined under the microscope for changes of celiac disease.


Treatment of celiac disease involves strict adherence to a gluten free diet, which requires learning what foods contain gluten and to avoid them.

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