Fri | Aug 23, 2019

Exploring celiac disease

Published:Monday | July 8, 2019 | 12:26 AM

Celiac disease, sometimes called celiac sprue or gluten-sensitive enteropathy, is an immune reaction to eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye.

If you have celiac disease, eating gluten triggers an immune response in your small intestine. Over time, this reaction damages your small intestine’s lining and prevents it from absorbing some nutrients (malabsorption). The intestinal damage often causes diarrhoea, fatigue, weight loss, bloating, and anaemia, and can lead to serious complications.

There’s no cure for celiac disease, but for most people, following a strict gluten-free diet can help manage symptoms and promote intestinal healing.

So how do you know you have this disease?

The signs and symptoms of celiac disease can vary greatly and differ in children and adults. Digestive signs and symptoms for adults include:

Diarrhoea

Fatigue

Weight loss

Bloating and gas

Abdominal pain

Nausea and vomiting

Constipation

However, more than half of the number of adults with celiac disease have signs and symptoms unrelated to the digestive system, including:

Anaemia, usually from iron deficiency.

Loss of bone density (osteoporosis) or softening of bone (osteomalacia).

Itchy, blistery skin rash (dermatitis herpetiformis).

Mouth ulcers.

Headaches and fatigue.

Nervous system injury, including numbness and tingling in the feet and hands, possible problems with balance, and cognitive impairment.

Joint pain.

Reduced functioning of the spleen (hyposplenism).

Dermatitis herpetiformis is an indication of gluten intolerance. Gluten intolerance can cause this itchy, blistering skin disease. The rash usually occurs on the elbows, knees, torso, scalp, and buttocks. This condition is often associated with changes to the lining of the small intestine identical to those of celiac disease, but might not cause digestive symptoms.

Doctors treat dermatitis herpetiformis with a gluten-free diet or medication, or both, to control the rash.

What causes celiac disease?

The precise cause isn’t known. Infant-feeding practices, gastrointestinal infections, and gut bacteria might contribute, as well. Sometimes celiac disease becomes active after surgery, pregnancy, childbirth, viral infection or severe emotional stress.

When the body’s immune system overreacts to gluten in food, the reaction damages the tiny, hairlike projections (villi) that line the small intestine. Villi absorb vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients from the food you eat. If your villi are damaged, you can’t get enough nutrients, no matter how much you eat.

Consult your doctor if you have diarrhoea or digestive discomfort that lasts for more than two weeks. Consult your child’s doctor if your child is pale, irritable or failing to grow or has a potbelly and foul-smelling, bulky stools.