Getting diarrhea, constipation, or fatigue recently? You might need to watch out for Celiac disease.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder. The condition affects the small intestine. A patient who has celiac disease often has a family history of this condition.
Celiac disease is marked by gluten sensitivity; consuming gluten in a diet instigates an autoimmune reaction where the immune cells attack the intestine’s healthy cells, resulting in physical damage and functional disorder of the gut.
The condition affects three million people in the U.S. and is tagged with nutritional insufficiencies and other health complications. For example, patients with celiac disease are two times more at risk of developing coronary artery disease and four times higher risk of developing cancer of the small intestine.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average time taken to diagnose celiac disease in a developed country like the U.S. is about four years.
This delay in diagnosis increases the risk of a celiac patient developing other autoimmune disorders (type I diabetes, multiple sclerosis), neurological ailments (epileptic seizures, dementia, migraine, neuropathy), osteoporosis and even cancer.
Here is a brief insight into celiac disease, a condition that requires apt and timely diagnosis.
Signs and symptoms of celiac disease
Our small intestine is lined by small finger-like projections called villi. These villi increase the surface area of the small intestine, thereby facilitating maximum nutrient absorption.
Celiac disease patients are sensitive to gluten.
Gluten is a protein. It is found in wheat, barley, and rye. Some oat products also contain gluten if they are processed in manufacturing plants handling gluten-containing grains.
The autoimmune reaction in such gluten-sensitive individuals destroys the villi, thereby compromising the function of the small intestine.
The signs and symptoms develop gradually. For example, some people may have apparent digestive issues, while others may present with complications attributed to years of nutrient malabsorption and deficiencies and so on.
- Weight loss
- Bloating and gas
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weak bones and muscles
- Reproductive issues
- Depression and anxiety
- Peripheral neuropathy
The signs and symptoms of celiac disease are more marked in children;
- Nausea and vomiting
- Chronic persistent diarrhea
- Swollen belly with bloating and gas
- Pale colored stool with foul smell
The malabsorption of nutrients in children may result in:
- Failure to thrive
- Weight loss
- Damaged tooth enamel
- Slow growth and short stature
- Delayed puberty
- Irritability and behavioral issues (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder)
- Neurological symptoms as headaches, learning disabilities, lack of muscle coordination and seizures
When to see a doctor
Consulting a doctor is important if;
- Diarrhea persists for more than two weeks without any obvious cause
- A child shows signs of irritability and failure to grow
- Planning on starting a gluten-free diet
Treatment of celiac disease
Treatment of celiac disease includes;
- Removal of gluten from diet (wheat, barley, rye, processed food items as canned soups, seasonings, ketchup, soy sauce, etc.)
- Complete avoidance of products with any suspicion of gluten presence (cosmetics, toothpaste, supplements, medications etc.)
- Inclusion of alternatives for gluten (meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, rice, buckwheat, quinoa, etc.)
- Supplementing the diet with vitamins and minerals (iron, copper, folate, vitamin B12, vitamin D and K, zinc, etc.) to refurbish any nutrient deficiency
- Severe cases may require steroid injections to cut back inflammation and speed up healing.
Abstinence from gluten provides a chance for the intestinal lining to heal itself. Considerable improvement in signs and symptoms of the disease is seen within days and weeks of gluten abstinence. However, it may take several years before complete healing takes place. In addition, the intestinal lining is quick to recover in children, often taking three to six months. Therefore, regular follow-ups with a doctor are essential to check symptoms being responsive to gluten abstinence.
This article reviewed by Ms. Deb Dooley.
There’s nothing more important than our good health – that’s our principal capital asset.
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