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What is celiac disease?

People who inherit this disease need to avoid gluten to prevent a handful of unpleasant symptoms and potentially dangerous complications.

Celiac disease is an inherited disorder that causes a variety of intestinal problems. People with the illness have an immune reaction to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. As a result, the intestines are damaged and the body can't take in many of the nutrients it needs, such as vitamins, calcium, carbohydrates and protein.

Possible problems

According to the American Medical Association (AMA), celiac disease can cause a variety of problems, such as:

  • Stomach pain and bloating.
  • Chronic diarrhea.
  • Pale, foul-smelling bowel movements.
  • Weight loss.
  • Bone pain and joint pain.
  • A painful, itchy, blistering rash called dermatitis herpetiformis.

Some people with the disease may have few of these problems but have an overall feeling of ill health along with tiredness, irritability and depression.

The illness can also lead to more serious complications, including anemia and osteoporosis, according to the AMA.

Celiac disease can appear at almost any age from infancy through adulthood. Its onset can depend on how much gluten is in a person's diet. Or it may be brought on by severe stress, sickness or childbirth.

When the disease begins in infancy or childhood, it can cause additional complications, say the American Academy of Family Physicians and UpToDate, including:

  • Failure to grow or gain weight.
  • Malnourishment.
  • Delayed puberty.
  • Hair loss.

Treatment

Treatment for celiac disease is simple and straightforward: adopt a strictly gluten-free diet. It may seem impossible to give up traditional breads, pastas and cereals; however, there are many alternatives, including products made with rice, soy, corn and potato. There are also many cookbooks featuring gluten-free recipes.

If you think you may have celiac disease, talk to your doctor. It can be diagnosed with a blood test and/or a biopsy of the intestinal tissue.

Learn more

For more information about celiac disease and a gluten-free diet, visit the following websites:

Reviewed 11/16/2020

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