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What is Celiac Disease?


Celiac Disease (CD) is a food allergy that prevents the body from using certain nutrients. The allergy is a substance called Gluten. Gluten is found in many grains, such as wheat, rye, oats, and barley. The allergy mostly affects the small intestine, which is where the food travels after it leaves the stomach, and where many nutrients are absorbed into the body. It commonly first appears in babies when they start eating food containing Gluten. Celiac Disease is more common in those of Western European descent. It often runs in families. Celiac Disease is not curable but can be controlled with a Gluten-Free Diet.


What Causes Celiac Disease?


An allergic reaction to Gluten causes Celiac Disease, which is also called Non-tropical Sprue and Gluten Enteropathy. Immunologic, Genetic, and Environmental factors all play a role in the development of Celiac Disease. When people with Celiac Disease eat food products containing Gluten, their immune system attacks and damages finger-like projections (known as Villi) lining the small intestine. The small intestine cannot absorb some nutrients, and people can become malnourished.


What are the Symptoms of Celiac Disease?


Symptoms include diarrhea, sometimes with discoloration (light tan or gray), bad smell, or oily or frothy looking stools; constipation; weight loss; fatigue or weakness and loss of energy or appetite; failure to grow and develop (in babies and children), frequent gas; abdominal bloating and swelling or abdominal pain; mouth ulcers; paleness; itchy rash (Dermatitis Herpetiformis); and muscle cramps. Many adults with CD have fewer symptoms than children, and diagnosis is often suggested by blood tests showing unexplained anemia (low blood count) or malabsorption or malnutrition.


How is Celiac Disease Diagnosed?


The doctor tests blood to check for lack of nutrients and antibodies produced in response to Gluten. The doctor may do other tests (such as small bowel x-rays using barium or endoscopy) to confirm the diagnosis and exclude other diseases. In endoscopy, a thin flexible tube with a camera on the end, is put into the throat and then down through the stomach into the small intestine. Then the doctor removes a piece of tissue for study under the microscope (biopsy).


How is Celiac Disease Treated?


The main treatment is eating a special diet that avoids anything containing gluten, which includes grains, particularly wheat, barley, and rye. Food supplements to help boost low nutrient levels may also be required (e.g. calcium and vitamin D supplements for patients who are at risk for Osteoporosis). You may also consider getting the help of a dietician or nutritionist to plan your diet!

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