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Feature Articles: Health

Celiac Disease

Tammy Roberts, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist in Barton County
University of Missouri Extension

Celiac Sprue is a disease in which a person does not tolerate gluten, the protein in wheat, barley, rye and, to a lesser extent, oats.

Celiac Sprue is a disease in which a person does not tolerate gluten, the protein in wheat, barley, rye and, to a lesser extent, oats. Celiac Sprue is not a food allergy but a disease that damages the small intestine and prevents absorption of nutrients.

According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NIDDIC) about two million people or 1 in 133 persons in the United States have celiac disease. It is considered to be a genetic disorder. It can be diagnosed in infancy through adulthood. Both males and females can have the disease but more women than men are diagnosed with it.

The Celiac Sprue Association lists three things that happen before the onset of the disease: a genetic predisposition, a diet containing wheat, barley, rye or oats and a trigger. The trigger could be things like overexposure to wheat, extreme stress, surgery, or a viral infection.

It is a complicated disease because a person can have the disease and not have symptoms. There have been instances where children have been diagnosed but then have symptoms disappear. They later found that although there were no symptoms, damage to the small intestine was still occurring. The damage in the small intestine is to the villi which are thin hair-like projections on the lining of the small intestine. They allow nutrients in to the bloodstream. If the villi are damaged, malnutrition, anemia, weight loss and growth retardation can occur.

Symptoms of celiac disease vary from person to person but may include gas, abdominal pain, weight loss or weight gain, tiredness, foul smelling or fatty stools, bone or joint pain, irritability, (one of the most common symptoms in children) tingling of legs and hands, delayed growth, sores in the mouth or an itchy skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis.

Celiac disease is often under diagnosed because is can be confused with other diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulitis or Crohn’s disease. To diagnose celiac disease, a physician will first do a blood test. If certain antibodies are present, they will do a small bowel biopsy to check for damage to the villi.

The only way to treat the disease is the elimination of gluten in the diet. Usually people notice a difference within a short period of time. Maintaining a gluten-free diet allows the small intestine to heal.



Last update: Tuesday, May 05, 2009








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