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Celiac Disease

For nearly 2 million Americans, flour is among the items that they cannot eat. Celiac disease is an inherited condition in which the immune system response is triggered by the protein gluten. Gluten is a protein in wheat, rye, and barley, and exists in most breads, pastas, and baked goods. Even some soups, salad dressings, vitas, medications and soy sauce have it. If a person with celiac disease eats an item that has gluten in it, their immune system will attack the small intestine during the digestion process and damage the cells that line the small intestine. This results in malnutrition and other problems such as anemia, skin rashes, osteoporosis, arthritis, and altered bowel habits. It can even cause anxiety and depression. 

Celiac disease runs in families and certain populations. An estimated 1 in 133 Americans, or about 1% of the population, has celiac disease. Many individuals are not yet diagnosed.

Wheat Field - Celiac Disease

Celiac Disease: A Tricky Diagnosis

Celiac disease is hard to diagnose unless you are looking for it. For some people, the only symptom they see is an itchy skin rash that can often be confused for other issues. Gas, bloating and constipation – all symptoms of other digestive issues – can easily be mistaken in this case for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Once thought to be a disease for young children, celiac disease is now being diagnosed more and more in adults who may have dealt with its subtle symptoms for years. Most of the people diagnosed with celiac disease today are in their 50s.

Celiac Disease has a wide range of symptoms. They include:

• gas
• abdominal bloating and pain
• diarrhea and/or constipation
• pale, foul-smelling or fatty stool
• weight loss or weight gain
• fatigue
• iron-deficiency anemia
• bone or joint pain
• loss of bone or short stature
• headaches
• nerve damage, indicated by tingling or numbness
• muscle pain or cramps
• heartburn or reflux disease
• missed menstrual periods, often because of excessive weight loss
• infertility, recurrent miscarriages
• hair loss
• failure to thrive in infants
• pale sores inside the mouth, called aphthous ulcers
• tooth discoloration or loss of enamel
• itchy skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis

To determine if you have celiac disease you will need to consult your doctor. A simple blood test can detect a substances called tissue transgltaminase (tTG), a product of the immune response to gluten. Those who are positive for tTG antibodies should have a biopsy done of the small intestine to search for damage and inflammation.

Celiac Disease Treatment

The only way to deal with celiac disease is to live a gluten-free lifestyle. Today there are many options, as many health food stores offer gluten-free pastas, pancake mixes, and grains. Patients with celiac disease must be careful when they eat out though because gluten can be hidden in lots of common ingredients. Most people typically begin to feel relief from their symptoms after following a gluten-free diet for at least two weeks. Your doctor may recommend that you see a registered dietitian or nutrition specialist to build a meal plan that can help make certain symptoms disappear.

Watch Out For Hidden Gluten

If you find any of these ingredients on a food label, the item contains gluten: wheat, wheat germ, bran, durum flour, all-purpose flour, white or wheat flour, graham flour, wheat starch, farina, wheat-based semolina, spelt, rye, triticale, barley, bulgar, couscous, or millet, malt or malt flavoring, hydrolyzed vegetable or plant protein, or gluten stabilizers (often found in prepared meat such as hotdogs). 

Labeling laws require that food manufactures denote what items are gluten-fee.

More Information

For more information on celiac disease, consult with your doctor or dietitian. There is also reliable information about celiac disease and gluten-free eating from the following sources:

• National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases’ Celiac Disease Awareness Campaign

• American Celiac Disease Alliance

• Center for Celiac Research and Treatment