Celiac Disease

This is a health condition in which a person experiences digestive problems provoked by celiac sprue when you eat gluten. This is a protein that is found in wheat and other grains. Celiac disease is more serious than just a normal food intolerance. The body’s defense (immune system) attacks the gluten in the small intestines in people with this disease. Thus, it damages the small intestine, and it starts not working properly.

What is Celiac Disease?

This condition is an inherited autoimmune disease that causes a reaction in the body to protein and gluten. In other words, gluten in the digestive system makes the immune system produce antibodies for it. Thus, the antibodies damage the lining of the small intestine, which affects its ability to absorb nutrients from food. This effect can lead to nutritional deficiencies.

Grains (including wheat, barley, and rye) contain this protein that triggers the body’s defense. For example, bread, cereals, and pasta contain wheat. However, gluten may appear in different food products where it should not be (such as sauces, soups, packaged foods, and others). In addition, beer is produced from rye and barley.

How Does This Condition Impact the Body?

The small intestine is negatively affected by this disease where the most nutrients are absorbed from foods (such as gluten). In people with celiac disease, the immune system produces and sends inflammation cells and antibodies that destroy gluten cells. These antibodies also damage the lining of the small intestine, which causes absorbing nutrient problems.

Mucosa (the lining of the small intestine) consists of many folds and projections (like fingers) called villi. The folds and projections help to absorb as many nutrients as possible during digestion. However, the body’s defense causes damage to the projections.

Additionally, damage to the small intestine can lead to serious health problems. When the body does not get enough nutrients from food, it is called malabsorption. This can lead to a serious condition called malnutrition. For example, in children, this complication can provoke growth and development problems.

Who is at Higher Risk of Developing Celiac Disease?

This disease is often diagnosed in people of Northern European descent. Approximately 1% of people experience this condition in Europe and North America. An individual has a 10% chance of getting this condition if have a first-degree relative (for example a parent or child who experiences it). Roughly 97% of people who were diagnosed with celiac disease have a gene mutation associated with HLA-DQ2 or HLA-DQ8.

There are other risk factors that could lead to celiac disease. For example, inherited Down syndrome, autoimmune conditions, and others. In addition, females are more likely to develop this disease than males. You are at higher risk of developing celiac disease if you:

  • Have chromosomal disorders (including Turner syndrome, Williams syndrome, or Down syndrome)
  • Are white
  • Were assigned female at birth (AFAB)
  • Have autoimmune conditions (such as type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, microscopic colitis, or Addison’s disease)
  • Family history


Usually, the symptoms fluctuate widely among people because it depends on the underlying cause, the severity of the condition, other existing chronic diseases, and others. Check below some symptoms:

Gastrointestinal Symptoms

  • Gas (flatulence)
  • Bloated stomach
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatty stools
  • Stomach pain

Symptoms of Iron-Deficiency Anemia

  • Pallor (pale complexion)
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Cold hands
  • Headaches
  • Mouth sores
  • Brittle or concave nails

Malnutrition Symptoms

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Muscle wasting or low muscle tone
  • Defects of the dental enamel (including pitting, mottled, or translucent-looking teeth)
  • Abnormal menstrual periods
  • Fertility problems
  • Mood changes (irritability in children and depression in adults are most common)
  • Growth delays

In addition, about 15% of people with celiac disease experience also a serious skin condition as a side effect called dermatitis herpetiformis. This dermatitis type can also be called “gluten rash” or “celiac rash”. This skin condition causes itchy rash and looks like clusters of bumps or blisters. It commonly appears on the elbows, knees, buttocks, or scalp.


In case you experience gastrointestinal symptoms after consuming gluten, you might think you have celiac disease. However, it can be a gluten or wheat product sensitivity, which is common for many people. Moreover, you may have a food intolerance that causes discomfort after eating but does not damage the small intestine as celiac disease.

You should get tested for celiac disease before you adopt a gluten-free diet because tests will show how gluten affects your body. In case you do not eat gluten, your intestines can begin healing. Thus, the evidence about gluten effects will be erased.

Tests for Celiac Disease

There are two tests that help to confirm celiac disease. Physicians usually use both to make sure you have this condition. The first diagnosis option is a blood test that helps to check for gluten antibodies. Thereafter, they will take a small sample of the intestine (biopsy) and send it to the laboratory. The second diagnosis option is usually done by a gastroenterologist who uses a small camera placed at the end of a long catheter. Through this catheter, the physician can place the tools needed to collect a sample of the intestine.

Other Tests

Healthcare professionals may also perform some tests to verify for vitamin and mineral deficiencies. If someone has severe deficiencies, they need to be treated with supplements. Usually, physicians verify you for iron-deficiency anemia, vitamin-deficiency anemia, and vitamin D deficiency.


Commonly, doctors recommend stopping eating gluten because you cannot change how your body reacts but you can prevent the triggering reaction. Once you stop eating gluten, your intestine will begin healing. Check below for other additional treatments:

  • Nutritional supplements
  • Specific medicines (including Dapsone used to treat dermatitis herpetiformis)
  • Corticosteroids (used in the treatment of severe inflammation)
  • Regular check-ups with your healthcare professional

It is not allowed to take any medicines without a doctor’s recommendation because it may worsen the condition or lead to other unpleasant outcomes.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the possible complications of celiac disease?

The following complications can happen due to chronic malnutrition. For example:

  • Rickets in children
  • Osteomalacia and osteoporosis in adults
  • Permanent dental damage
  • Nervous system problems (such as peripheral neuropathy)
  • Children may experience development and growth problems
  • Difficulty learning

Check below some chronic inflammation complications:

  • Additional food intolerances
  • Compromised immunity
  • Ulceration and scarring
  • Collagenous sprue
  • Liver disease
  • Cancer

Consult with your doctor for more details.

What foods can trigger celiac disease symptoms?

  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Rye

Additionally, the following foods are made from previous grains. For example:

  • Noodles and pasta
  • Hot and cold cereals
  • Bread
  • Malt vinegar
  • Beer, lager, and ale
  • Malted liquors

Moreover, certain processed foods also contain gluten. Examples include:

  • Soups
  • Sauces
  • Dressings and condiments
  • Processed meats, cheeses, yogurt, ice creams, hot dogs, deli meats, and others
  • Packaged dinners
  • Sweets

Before buying any products, it is recommended to check the labels for gluten.

What are the main celiac disease symptoms?

If you experience any of the following symptoms, immediately contact your healthcare provider. For example:

  • Diarrhea
  • Steatorrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Growth failure (in children)

Ask your doctor if you have additional questions.

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