What is Celiac Disease?

There are a number of different reasons people turn to a gluten free diet. Celiac disease is perhaps the  number one reason people become gluten free. Celiac disease is a digestive and autoimmune disorder that results in damage to the small intestine when foods with gluten are consumed.

In 2003, Dr. Alessio Fasano of the School of Medicine at the University of Maryland published the results of a study that showed 1 in 133 people in the United States were affected by celiac disease. Before the results were released, celiac disease had long been considered rare in North America. This was the first study that provided an accurate estimation of how prevalent celiac disease really is, and since that time more and more information about diagnosing and treating the disease has come out.

what is celiac disease

How Gluten Affects a Person with Celiac Disease

When a person with celiac disease consumes gluten, a few different things happen inside the body of a celiac. The immune system views the gluten as an invader and forms antibodies to it, which then attack the intestinal lining. This causes inflammation in the intestines and damages the villi, which area hair-like structures on the lining of the small intestine. The villi are extremely important in the nutrient-processing function.

If a celiac continues to eat gluten, over time the damage to the intestine makes it difficult for the body to absorb nutrients like calcium, iron, and folate. They end up malnourished because of their damaged villi, no matter how much nutrient-rich food they consume.

Celiac Disease Symptoms

Celiac disease has many symptoms, but unfortunately, these symptoms could signal many other conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulosis, or even (nonceliac) gluten intolerance. The following symptoms may occur alone, or in a combination with others:

  • Headaches and fatigue
  • Abdominal Bloating
  • Acid Reflux and Heartburn
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Pale Stools
  • Weight Loss
  • Dermatitis Herpetiformis
  • Muscle Cramps
  • Joint and Bone Pain
  • Loss of Bone Density
  • Seizures
  • Numbness and Tingling sensation in the legs
  • Sores in the mouth, known as Aphthous ulcers
  • Missed menstrual periods

How is Celiac Disease Diagnosed?

The main method of diagnosing celiac disease is through a blood test, often performed by primary care physicians. Even with all the recent developments around celiac disease, these tests still often come back with inconclusive results, which is one of the major reasons why so many cases of celiac disease remain un-diagnosed or misdiagnosed.  Also, someone with gluten intolerance will come back negative for celiac disease, even though gluten must still be avoided. According to the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, at least 85% of Americans who have active celiac disease do not know it yet.

Doctors may use one or a combination of the following tests to diagnose celiac disease in a patient:

  • Intestinal Biopsy
  • Anti-Tissue Transglutaminase Antibody Test (anti-tTG)
  • Endomysial Antibody Test (EMA)
  • Anti-Gliadin Antibodies Test (AGA)
  • Deamidated Gliadin Peptid Antibody Test (DGP)

Treating Celiac Disease

The only current known way to treat celiac disease is a strict gluten free diet. There are no “cheat” days on this diet, and it is for life. Hopefully, with some help from This Gluten Free Life, you can find terrific recipes and answers to all the questions you have about the gluten free diet.