Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that tends to run in families and is thought to afflict around one out of every 100 people on Earth. It occurs genetically in people that are predisposed to the consumption of gluten causing their body to mount an immune response. Gluten is a protein that is found in grass-related grains like barley, rye, or wheat. This response will then attack and damage the villi, which are tiny finger-like projections that line the small intestine. The purpose of villi is that they help to boost the absorption of nutrients, so when they get damaged it causes the body to be unable to correctly do so.
Symptoms of Celiac Disease
Celiac disease affects people of all ages but has different symptoms depending on if the person afflicted is an adult or child. In adults the most noticeable signs of the disease are weight loss, feeling fatigued, and diarrhea. Other symptoms that they might undergo can include abdominal pain, bloating, feeling constipated and/or nauseous, and vomiting. These symptoms are caused directly by the intestinal damage that celiac disease causes.
However, more then a majority of the adults who have the disease have other symptoms outside of the digestive system like anemia (lack of red blood cells), acid reflux, headaches, heartburn, joint pain, mouth ulcers, and more. If left untreated in adults celiac disease can cause cancer, infertility, miscarriage, malnutrition, loss of bone density, and neurological problems.
In children of any age, the damage to villi and resulting malabsorption can affect their growth and development. Children younger than two years old typically experience symptoms like chronic diarrhea, muscle wasting, poor appetite, and having a swollen belly. Older children will usually deal with irritability, constipation, and diarrhea. If left untreated in children, celiac disease can cause anemia, arthritis, dental enamel defects, epilepsy, and delayed puberty.
Treatments for Celiac Disease
Unfortunately, celiac disease has no cure. For the vast majority of those suffering from it, following a strict gluten-free diet will help to control its symptoms and stimulate intestinal healing. Those who think they are suffering from the disease should talk to their doctor if they have digestive discomfort or diarrhea that lasts over two weeks. Signs in a child will include looking pale, acting irritable, have a bulky stool, and failing to grow larger.
Up to 30% of people with the disease suffer from non-responsive celiac disease, which means that they do not respond to undertaking a strict gluten-free diet. These people likely will also have additional symptoms along with the disease like irritable bowel syndrome, microscopic colitis, or poor pancreas function.
In the most extreme instances some suffer from refractory celiac disease, where it keeps going despite a strict gluten-free diet and causes major malabsorption. In these cases, further testing will likely be undergone. Doctors may give their patient a steroid that reduces intestinal inflammation or special medication to help suppress the immune system.