Also known as celiac sprue or gluten-sensitive enteropathy, celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that affects men and women alike. It arises in certain individuals upon consumption of gluten-rich food. The foods rich in gluten content include wheat and its products, barley, rye, buckwheat, semolina, malted breakfast cereals and corn. In such patients, gluten triggers an abnormal immune response that damages the lining of the small intestine, thus impairs normal digestion and absorption process.
The common symptoms of such disease are vomiting, bloating, diarrhea, mouth ulcer, muscle cramps and weight loss. Immediate treatment is suggested upon development of celiac disease as negligence can lead to several serious ailments like osteoporosis and anemia. This disease may also put a person at a risk of developing lymphoma. Here is detailed information about what you should know about celiac disease.
An autoimmune disorder, celiac disease is caused when the body’s immune system designated to protect against foreign particles attacks the normal body cells. It occurs when a person with the disease consumes food containing gluten which in turn attacks the intestinal lining.
The immune cells further destroy the villi, brush-like structures lining the small intestine, and cause inflammation of the intestine. Since villi are damaged, the absorption of nutrients by them is also inhibited, leading to malnourishment and susceptibility to various diseases.
Not many people know that celiac disease is hereditary, which means that the disease can run in families. The risk increases further if your parent or sibling suffers from the disease. If you have the disease, the chance of your child acquiring the disease is one in 10.
The symptoms of celiac disease vary from person to person and hence, it is difficult to diagnose the disease. However, the common signs of celiac disease include -
- Iron deficiency anemia
- Tingling sensation in the legs
- Muscle cramps and joint or bone pain
- Growth problems, especially in children
- Mouth ulcers
- Missed menstrual periods
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pale stools
In case your doctor suspects that you are suffering from celiac disease, he/she may conduct your physical examination and also ask you about your clinical history. Apart from this, a doctor might recommend few diagnostic tests. These include –
Antibody tests: Antibodies are immune cells that protect the body against infectious organisms.A blood test to detect the levels of these antibodies (antitissue transglutaminase antibodies or tTGA) in the body helps to determine the condition. The high levels of antibodies in the blood confirm that the person suffers from celiac disease.
Stool sample test: A stool sample test is also recommended to detect the fat content in the faeces. This is because, if a person suffers from celiac disease, fat is not absorbed by the intestine and thus, expelled into the stool.
Blood tests: Other tests that might help to diagnose whether a person suffers from a celiac disease or not include deficiency of iron (anemia), vitamin D, folate and vitamin B12 in the body. As the antibodies affect the villi present in the small Intestine, it prevents the absorption of various nutrients leading to nutritional deficiencies which can be detected only through blood test.
Endoscopy: If the above tests are positive, your doctor might perform an endoscopy of a part of the small intestine. A thin hollow endoscope is inserted through the mouth into the intestine. A sample of small intestine is taken with this device and is examined under microscope to detect damage of the villi.
Although celiac disease can be treated, it cannot be cured. This means that the person suffering from this disease has to live with this condition for the rest of his life. The most effective treatment option involves consumption of a gluten-free diet i.e., restricting intake of foods, beverages or medications containing wheat, barley, oats and rye. When initiated from day one of the treatment plan, intestinal lining and symptoms of celiac disease can be managed.
Apart from this, your doctor might prescribe nutritional supplements to deal with nutrient deficiencies. In case the response to treatment is not as expected, your doctor might advice short-term use of corticosteroids.
In most cases, a well-balanced and gluten-free diet is the key to heal intestinal damage and prevent further damage of the villi. Although children take around six months time to show positive results after treatments, it might take around two to three years time for adults to cope well with the disease.
In some cases, celiac disease might cause permanent growth problems like lower height than normal or teeth damage in children.
If left untreated, celiac disease might cause various health complications such as –
As the exact cause of celiac disease in unknown, there are no precautionary measures to prevent the disease. However, the only way to lower your risk of this condition is being aware of its risk factors, avoid gluten-rich foods and undergoing early diagnosis and treatment.