What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac Disease is a disorder in which the lining of the small intestine is damaged by an immune reaction to gluten, a protein found in grains, such as wheat, rye, and barley. Celiac disease damages the tiny protrusions called villi on the small intestine’s lining. This leads to malabsorption (the impaired absorption of nutrients in the small intestine). This disease is also known as gluten intolerance or gluten-sensitive enteropathy.
Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disorder, which means it is caused by a malfunction in the body’s own immune system. It can be an inherited disorder, meaning that it runs in families. The disease can occur at any age and can be triggered by a stressful event, such as surgery, an infection, pregnancy or childbirth, or severe emotional stress. (Breast feeding appears to offer protection against the disease.) In addition, the age at which an individual begins to eat foods that contain gluten (such as baby cereal) may also be a factor.
Common symptoms include abdominal bloating and pain, weight loss, chronic diarrhea, and flatulence. Stools often are greasy, pale, bulky, and foul-smelling. In some cases, the symptoms are not limited to the digestive system. They may also include fatigue, bone pain, behavioral changes, muscle cramps, joint pain, seizures, rash, numbness, or tingling in the legs, sores in the mouth, tooth discoloration, and menstrual irregularity. In other cases, symptoms are virtually absent. There is an increased rate of intestinal cancer among individuals who have Celiac Disease.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Because the symptoms mimic those of many other digestive disorders, establishing an accurate diagnosis can be difficult. To confirm a diagnosis, Dr. Klin will test your blood to measure the level of specific antibodies. A biopsy, in which a small piece of tissue is removed from the small intestine and analyzed, may be necessary to check for damage to villi.
The only effective treatment is a change in diet. Avoidance of all foods that contain gluten is prescribed. Eating even a small amount of gluten can damage the intestine. A gluten-free diet entails not only avoiding most grains, but also pasta, cereal, and many processed foods.
Left untreated, Celiac Disease can lead to complications, such as cancer, osteoporosis, miscarriage, congenital defects, short stature in children, or seizures.
Source: AMA Complete Encyclopedia, Copyright 2003, American Medical Association
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