You’ve just been diagnosed with celiac disease. This explains the abdominal discomfort, gas, frequent diarrhea, and weight loss you’ve been experiencing. The good news is that there is a simple fix for living with celiac disease – eating a gluten-free diet.
Washington University gastroenterologist Jean Wang, MD, PhD explains, “Celiac disease is a disorder of the immune system which causes a reaction to eating gluten. When people with celiac disease eat food containing gluten, their immune system causes damage to the small intestine which then interferes with the body’s absorption of nutrients from food.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and some oats. It acts as a glue and helps foods maintain their shape.”
The symptoms of celiac disease can be different from person to person. Some people may have severe symptoms, while others may have only one mild one. In addition to the abdominal discomfort, frequent diarrhea or unexplained weight loss, other symptoms can include:
- Low iron levels
- Anemia (low blood count)
- Severe skin rash (called hermatitis herpetiformis)
- Growth problems
There are several blood tests available to test for celiac disease. Dr. Wang says, “The most accurate blood test is one which tests for the tissue transglutaminase antibody. If this blood test is positive, then the next step is to have an upper endoscopy test to obtain biopsies (tissue samples) of the small intestine to confirm the diagnosis of celiac disease.
It is important to remember that before being tested, you need to be on a regular diet including gluten. If you put yourself on a gluten-free diet before having the tests done, the test results could be falsely negative.”
Celiac disease can occur at any age. Although some people are found to have celiac disease as infants, it is most common for celiac disease to develop in adults who are in their 40s and 50s. It also more common in women than in men; and in Caucasians, compared to other races.
Long-term health problems
Since celiac disease causes damage to the small intestine which then interferes with absorption of nutrients, people with untreated celiac disease can have malnutrition, osteoporosis, and even bowel cancer.
People with celiac disease are more likely to have other immune system disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, thyroid disease, and Type 1 diabetes.
Most cases of celiac disease can be treated with a gluten-free diet. Although celiac disease cannot be cured, by following a gluten-free diet you can completely reverse any damage to the small intestine caused by the disease.
Gluten-free foods are becoming commonplace in most grocery stores. You can find shelves of gluten-free bread, cakes, pasta, cookies, pizza and snacks. Many restaurants now offer gluten-free options on their menus. It is much easier to follow a gluten-free diet than it was just five years ago.
Dr. Wang adds, “With proper treatment and diet, most people with celiac disease can live a normal life.”
For more information on celiac disease or to make an appointment with Dr. Wang, please call 314-747-2066. Patients are seen at the Center for Advanced Medicine, GI Center, 4921 Parkview Place, 8th floor, Suite C.
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