Celiac disease is a lifelong digestive disease that causes damage to the small intestine and interferes with the absorption of nutrients from food. Those that suffer from celiac disease cannot tolerate gluten, wheat protein, rye, or barley. When people with celiac disease eat foods containing these ingredients, their immune system responds by destroying their villi. Villi are located in the lining in the small intestine and are tiny and fingerlike protrusions. In a normal body, villi would absorb nutrients through the walls of the small intestine and then into the bloodstream. If one does not have healthy villi, he or she can become malnourished, even after eating the same amount or more than the average person.
Celiac disease is often inherited and is genetic. Although a person may have the disease, often it will not become present until after a major event in the body including, infections, severe stress, surgery, pregnancy or childbirth.
There are several symptoms of celiac disease and they can vary greatly with each person. Most often if an infant or child is affected with the disease their symptoms will show in the digestive tract. Symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, vomiting, constipation, weight loss, and pale or offensive stools can all be present. Children exhibiting these symptoms should be evaluated for the disease especially since malnutrition in infants and children at such a critical time in their growing years can cause several side effects of its own. Irritability, failure to gain weight or height, delayed puberty and damage to the enamel on adult teeth, are all other side effects than can occur.
For adults that are suffering from celiac, the symptoms may not always present themselves through the digestive system. Other symptoms are often much more common and can consist of anemia, fatigue, joint pain, depression, anxiety, numbness in hands or feet, mouth sores, itchy rashes, infertility, menstrual problems, bone loss or arthritis. There is the possibility of having no symptoms for quite some time, but the disease will still continue to progress causing malnutrition. Malnutrition can then lead to osteoporosis, anemia, liver diseases, intestinal cancers and miscarriages.
Once your doctor has diagnosed and confirmed that you are dealing with celiac disease, the next step is preventing the disease from progressing and preventing mal-absorption of vital nutrients in the body. The only treatment for this disease is to start on a gluten free diet. This can become quite challenging and it is usually a good idea to speak with a dietitian on how to avoid these foods and still get your proper nutrition. Gluten can be in foods that people would not expect so it is important to learn how to read labels carefully and to be able to detect gluten in foods that can be deceiving.
Usually by changing dietary habits and eliminating the offensive ingredients the symptoms of the disease will stop. This will allow for healing of the digestive tract and help prevent further damage from being done to the intestines. An improvement can usually be noticed in a matter of a few days after the change in the diet have taken place, although complete healing can take 3-6 months in children and sometimes years in adults. Unfortunately in order to stay healthy a person with celiac disease must stay away from all gluten for the remainder of their lives. Even small amounts of gluten can damage the villi in the digestive tract.
Although living with celiac disease can pose a few challenges, it can be managed successfully. With a lot of research and regular doctor’s appointments you can keep your disease at bay and prevent any further damage being done to your body.
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