Celiac Disease, also known as “Celiac Sprue,” is an autoimmune disorder in which patients develop antibodies to “gluten” proteins found in wheat, rye, and barley.
Symptoms of Celiac Disease include chronic diarrhea and weight loss. Patients with untreated Celiac Disease may also have bloating, fatigue, and abdominal pain. Celiac Disease is also associated with a characteristic rash. Some patients with Celiac Disease, however, have very mild symptoms and others may have no symptoms at all, which can make diagnosis difficult.
The effect Celiac Disease has on the intestines interferes with iron absorption which may lead to iron deficiency and anemia. Laboratory abnormalities associated with Celiac Disease include vitamin deficiencies and abnormal liver and thyroid tests. It is important to investigate symptoms consistent with Celiac Disease because untreated Celiac Disease increases the risk of certain cancers.
Individuals who have Celiac Disease are also at risk for low bone density and diabetes.
Celiac Disease can manifest at any age, but if children have untreated Celiac Disease, it may affect growth.
There are blood tests which can identify antibodies associated with Celiac Disease, but the most definitive way to diagnose this disease is by taking a biopsy of the tissue in the small intestine. A biopsy is performed through a procedure called “endoscopy” during which a camera is inserted through the mouth, down the throat, and into the stomach.
People who have Celiac Disease will have resolution of their symptoms if they eliminate gluten from their diet, but most experts agree getting the diagnosis by doing a biopsy is recommended as there are other diseases which can present with symptoms similar to Celiac Disease.
Adhering to a gluten-free diet can be very difficult and may require working with a dietician.
The prevalence of Celiac Disease has been estimated to be between 1 in 40 and 1 in 300, and it is believed the majority of people with Celiac Disease remain undiagnosed.
If you are having symptoms consistent with Celiac Disease, schedule a visit with your physician to discuss further evaluation.
Ryan M. Harden, MD MS