Fitness Facts: Celiac disease
By Connie Colbert
Director, Canyon Health and Wellness Clinic
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that is triggered when a person with this diagnosis consumes gluten. It is becoming more prevalent in the United States and has been found in more than 3 million Americans. Celiac disease is also hereditary, and those with a first degree relative (parent, child or sibling) have a one in 10 risk of developing it.
Many people can live years dismissing the symptoms until they ultimately find out they have severe vitamin deficiencies and malnutrition.
Why does this happen?
When someone with celiac disease eats something with gluten, their body overreacts to the gluten protein and it damages the villi in the intestines. Villi are very small finger-like projections found along the wall of the small intestine. The small intestines are where 90% of the digestion and absorption of food occurs, so anything that disrupts this can cause havoc on the growth and development in the body. The small intestines absorb essential nutritional elements such as iron and vitamins A, D, E, K and B12.
When the villi are injured, the small intestine cannot properly absorb nutrients from food. Eventually, this can lead to malnourishment, as well as loss of bone density, miscarriages, infertility– even to the start of neurological diseases, or certain cancers.
As you see, if left untreated, celiac disease can cause serious health problems, especially in a growing child.
What are the symptoms? The following vary, depending on the individual and severity of disease. Listed are the most common, but some may show no signs of disease:
- Irregular menstrual periods
- Itchy blistery rash
- Bone and joint pain
- Loss of bone density
- Mouth sores,
- Abdominal pain
- Headaches or general fatigue
- Weight loss
- Itchy skin
According to Web MD, “Researchers think as few as 20% of people with the disease ever get a proper diagnosis.”
How do I know if I have it?
If you, your child or other family member either have some of these symptoms or there is a close family member who has the disease, it is best to see a healthcare provider to get tested.
The testing for celiac disease is mainly through a blood test to look for the antibodies for celiac disease. Almost all people with celiac disease has them in the body at higher than normal levels.
If you are diagnosed through the blood test, most likely you will be sent for an endoscopy to check your small intestine for damage. An endoscopy is done by a gastroenterologist who will insert a small tube with a camera on the end through your throat, down your esophagus and into your stomach and small intestine. The gastroenterologist will look for visual damage to your intestine as well as take a biopsy from your small intestine to confirm the diagnosis. The endoscopy takes about 15 minutes and you will be under sedation. To find out if you have celiac disease, you must still be on a diet containing gluten when you get the endoscopy. It is important NOT to restrict gluten before test to obtain an accurate diagnosis.
If the test is negative but you still are having similar symptoms, you may still be gluten sensitive and not have celiac disease. Next week, I will discuss gluten sensitivity and eating a gluten-free diet.