Celiac disease is a chronic, genetic autoimmune disease. The immune system is overly sensitive to gluten and the reaction causes damage to the small intestine. How does one know they have a gluten intolerance and what are symptoms, triggers and treatment?
Also called Celiac sprue, Gluten-sensitive enteropathy, and Nontropical sprue
Gluten, or Gliadin, is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. It is used to help foods maintain their shape, acting as a glue that holds them together. Examples of foods where wheat is found are breads, soups, pasta, cereals and sauces. Barley is found in malt, food coloring, soups and beer while rye is included in rye bread, rye beer and cereals. Other grains where gluten is found includes triticale and oats.
Symptoms vary by person and can present as digestive irritability with diarrhea, abdominal pain, depression in some, and others have no symptoms.
Adults without digestive issues are likely to have one or more of the following symptoms:
- A red, smooth, shiny tongue
- Bone or joint pain
- Depression or anxiety
- Dermatitis herpetiformis
- Infertility or repeated miscarriage
- Missed menstrual periods
- Mouth problems such as canker sores or dry mouth
- Tingling or numbness in the hands and feet
- Weak and brittle bones
Adults with digestive issues caused by celiac disease may have the following symptoms:
- Abdominal pain and bloating
- Intestinal blockages
- Tiredness that lasts for long periods of time
- Ulcers, or sores on the stomach or lining of the intestine
In children, celiac disease may present itself after foods containing gluten have been introduced to the diet, typically after 6-9 months of age. It is important to test children at the first signs of the disease or if it runs in your family. First-degree relatives are at risk for inheriting this disease with a 1 in 10 chance. Symptoms to look out for in children can be found on the Celiac Disease Foundation website.
The main trigger of this disease is consuming gluten that interferes with the absorption of nutrients into the bloodstream leading to malnourishment. The buildup of these gluten fragments triggers the immune system that something is wrong. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases labels some health issues that trigger symptoms including surgery, childbirth, bacterial gastroenteritis, a viral infection or severe mental stress.
Diagnosing Celiac Disease
Initial Testing: An antibody blood test can help diagnose this genetic disease. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, this test can be done by blood test, saliva test or cheek swab. The antibodies tested for are anti-endomysium and anti-tissue tranglutaminase.
Diagnosis: If a person tests positive for one of the aforementioned antibodies, a biopsy of the tissue in the small intestine is needed to confirm a diagnosis. A physician will inspect the retracted tissue for damage to the villi via an endoscopic biopsy. This biopsy is considered the “gold standard” for diagnosis as it will tell you:
- If you have celiac disease.
- If your symptoms improve on a gluten-free diet due to placebo effect.
- If you have a different gastrointestinal disorder or sensitivity which repsonds to change in your diet.
Celiac Disease Treatments
A consultation with a dietician is recommended following a celiac disease diagnosis. According to the Mayo Clinic, a strict, lifelong gluten-free diet is the only way to suppress symptoms and manage this disease.
American Online Benefits Group offers plans that provide coverage for doctors visits, in the event you are seeking a celiac disease diagnosis. Please contact our Agent or Member Services to receive more information at 214-389-9072.