Are you allergic to gluten? Celiac disease is a digestive disorder resulting from the inability of an individual to properly digest gluten, a protein commonly found in bread, pasta and many other foods containing wheat, barley or rye. A person with Celiac disease who consumes gluten will damage the surface of their small intestine and will be unable to absorb certain nutrients. This can lead to deficiencies that deprive organs, bones and tissues of vital nutrients which in turn, cause other illnesses and growth stunting. While there is no cure for Celiac disease, a person can live a healthy and manageable life with the disease.
The cause of Celiac disease is unknown, although it is most commonly inherited. It can also be caused by trauma, such as an infection or injury to the small intestine. The small intestine is lined with villi, small hair-like projections which absorb nutrients from the food we eat. However, in people with celiac disease, these villi are damaged. This causes vital nutrients to pass through the small intestine instead of being absorbed into the body.
Symptoms of Celiac disease can vary from patient to patient. However, common gastrointestinal symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal pain and bloating. In addition, Celiac disease may cause symptoms unrelated to digestion including anemia, irritability or depression, joint pain, muscle cramps, skin rash and mouth sores. Weight loss and stunted growth are indications that Celiac disease has progressed to malabsorption.
The most important part of treatment is to eliminate gluten from the diet. This includes foods that contain any type of wheat, barley or rye. This includes food such as bread, cereal, crackers, cookies, cakes, pasta and pizza crust. To be sure, patients should check food labels for gluten. While this may complicate an individual’s diet, there are still many common foods which can be eaten on a gluten-free diet. These foods include meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, fruits, vegetables, rice, and gluten-free flours such as rice, soy and corn. In addition, many food manufacturers are making gluten-free products to serve the Celiac population.
Because a gluten-free diet is difficult to follow, and must be followed strictly, is may be best for a patient to consult a dietitian. A dietitian can help create an adequate diet that is gluten free. This includes finding gluten-free substitutes and advising the use of nutritional supplements if needed.
Most patients with Celiac disease have no complications if they follow a gluten-free diet. If a modified diet does not improve the condition, other treatments may be used. These treatments include medication which control intestinal inflammation and other conditions resulting from malabsorption.