Celiac disease: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Man trying to avoid eating sliced bread due to a gluten-free allergy

Until a few decades, celiac was an uncommon word. But, in recent times, it has become a significant concern. This article discusses the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of celiac disease.

Celiac disease is one of the most common autoimmune diseases in the world. It is a severe condition that can cause damage to the small intestine and other organs in the body.

Understanding symptoms of gluten intolerance and how to treat them with a gluten-free diet can help you deal with celiac disease.

What is celiac disease?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder affecting the small intestine’s digestive process. 

When people with celiac disease eat foods that contain gluten, their immune system responds by damaging the villi – the tiny, finger-like projections that line the small intestine. 

This damage prevents the absorption of nutrients from food, which can lead to serious health problems.

The other names for celiac disease are:

  • Sprue
  • Nontropical sprue
  • Gluten-sensitive enteropathy

Did you know?

Every year, more than 7.5 percent of new cases of celiac disease are diagnosed in the United States. 

Three types of celiac diseases

There are three types of celiac diseases [1]Scientific Research Publishing: Classical and Non-Classical Celiac Disease Comparison: Ten Years of Study – classic, non-classic, and silent – which differ in their symptoms and age of onset.

Classical Celiac Disease

Classical celiac disease is the most severe form of the condition and is characterized by symptoms that typically appear in early childhood.

Non-Classical Celiac Disease

Non-classical celiac disease is a milder condition, and symptoms typically appear in adulthood.

Silent Celiac Disease

A silent celiac disease is a form of sprue that does not cause any symptoms. This is generally considered an asymptomatic celiac disease. However, people with silent celiac disease are still at risk for the same long-term health complications as those with other types of celiac disease.

9 Common celiac disease symptoms

Generally, the symptoms of celiac sprue are associated with digestive and kidney diseases. However, the symptoms also show up in other body parts. Here are 9 signs you should be aware of:

1. Digestive Symptoms

One of the early symptoms of celiac disease is associated with the digestive system. These symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Gas
  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation
  • Swollen belly in children 

2. Skin And Hair-Related Symptoms

Celiac sprue can also cause skin and hair-related symptoms, such as:

  • Dermatitis herpetiformis- A health condition that causes a blistery skin rash.
  • Alopecia- A medical concern that results in baldness.

3. Nutritional Deficiencies

Celiac disease can lead to nutritional deficiencies due to the damage it causes to the small intestine. This can lead to health conditions such as:

  • Anemia
  • Osteoporosis
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Delayed growth in children

4. Muscle and Bone Problems

Celiac disease can also cause several muscle and bone-related problems, such as:

  • Arthritis
  • Muscle cramps
  • Bone pain
  • Joint pain

5. Weight Fluctuations

Weight fluctuations are another common celiac disease symptom. People with celiac disease may experience unexplained weight gain or weight loss due to the malabsorption of nutrients.

6. Neurological Symptoms

Neurological symptoms are one of the serious concerns people with celiac disease may experience. These symptoms include:

  • Difficulty in speaking
  • Abnormal voice
  • Ataxia
  • Brain fog
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Seizures
  • ADHD in children 

7. Hormonal Problems

Women with celiac disease may often experience hormonal problems such as:

  • Infertility
  • Missed periods
  • Early menopause
  • Delayed puberty in children 

8. Mental Health Concerns

Celiac disease affects not just the physical health but also the mental health of a person. People with celiac disease are at a higher risk of developing mental health issues such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder

9. Other Health Problems

In addition to the above symptoms, people with celiac disease may face issues like:

  • Fatigue
  • Migraines
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness

Causes and risk factors

According to the Celiac Disease Foundation [2]Celiac Disease Foundation: What is Celiac Disease?, celiac disease is a hereditary condition.

However, it is not only limited to heredity. People with certain health conditions are also at risk for celiac disease. It tends to be common in individuals who have:

  • Genetic disorders
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Thyroid
  • Intestinal cancer
  • Lupus
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Down syndrome
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Lactose intolerance

Difference between celiac disease And non-celiac gluten sensitivity

Although both celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity are associated with gluten intolerance, they have many differences. These are listed in the below table:

Criteria Celiac DiseaseNon-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity 
CauseAuto-immune response to glutenUnknown response to gluten-containing foods
DiagnosisBlood tests, followed by endoscopy and biopsyEliminating all other medical possibilities
TreatmentStrict gluten-free dietStrict gluten-free diet
SynonymsGluten sprue Gluten Intolerance 

How is celiac disease diagnosed?

Celiac disease can be challenging to diagnose because its symptoms are similar to other conditions. If you think you may have celiac disease, be sure to see a doctor for a diagnosis. However, there are a few medical ways to test for celiac disease. 

Medical History

Depending upon your medical history, doctors look for symptoms that might indicate celiac disease.

Blood And Antibody Tests

Blood and antibody tests can be used to look for the presence of antibodies associated with celiac disease.

Genetic Tests

Doctors may test you to look for the presence of genetic variants associated with celiac disease.

Endoscopy

An endoscopy is a procedure that involves inserting a small camera into the digestive tract. This can be used to look for damage to the villi. 

Biopsy

A biopsy is a procedure in which a small tissue sample is taken from the small intestine and examined for damage caused by celiac sprue. 

Celiac disease treatment 

According to the national institutes of health [3]National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Celiac Disease, the only way to treat celiac disease is to avoid gluten from your diet  permanently. This will help your intestinal villi to heal and absorb nutrients as they should.

Celiac disease can be a complex condition to deal with, but with the proper treatment, it can be managed. Doctors suggest the following treatment methods for people with celiac disease:

Symptomatic Medication

There are a few symptomatic medications that can help with the symptoms of celiac disease, such as

  • Antidiarrheal medication
  • Pain relief medication

Gluten-Free Diet

People with celiac disease must follow a strict gluten-free diet. This means avoiding all foods that contain gluten, such as wheat, barley, and rye. 

There are a few points to remember for effectively following a gluten-free diet:

  • Check food labels to ensure it’s gluten free
  • Avoid processed foods
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables
  • Eat gluten-free grains
  • Beware of cross-contaminated foods
  • Find gluten-free alternatives

Nutritional Supplements

Developing celiac disease may lead to nutritional deficiencies. In order to meet your nutritional requirements, you may need to take dietary supplements like:

  • Iron
  • Folic acid
  • Vitamin B12
  • Calcium
  • Vitamin D3

Note: Take any supplements only upon advice from a healthcare professional. 

Contrary to the above-mentioned treatment methods, some people may not respond to normal celiac disease treatment. This condition is known as refractory celiac disease. If your symptoms don’t improve after 12 months of treatment, see a doctor for further tests.

Conclusion

Celiac disease can be managed with proper treatment. However, there is no cure for it. The only way to treat celiac disease is to follow a strict gluten-free diet.

If left untreated, celiac disease can lead to many complications. So, it’s essential to get a diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.

References

References
1 Scientific Research Publishing: Classical and Non-Classical Celiac Disease Comparison: Ten Years of Study
2 Celiac Disease Foundation: What is Celiac Disease?
3 National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Celiac Disease

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