Nowadays, hearing the term “celiac disease” seems rather commonplace. Perhaps you even know someone who has it; however, many people assume celiac disease and gluten intolerance are the same things, but true celiac disease is much more serious. This autoimmune disorder is triggered whenever a person consumes food that contains gluten. Instead of just experiencing digestive upset (as those with gluten intolerance may), those with celiac disease incur damage to their small intestines, which in turn affects how the body absorbs nutrients.
While people can develop celiac disease at any age, it’s often hereditary (meaning that if you have a family member with this condition then you are more likely to develop the celiac disease yourself). Since this disease can lead to serious health problems such as infertility, anemia, and type 1 diabetes, it’s important to see a doctor if you suspect that you might have celiac disease.
The most common symptoms of Celiac disease involve digestive problems and may include:
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Abdominal pain
- Increased gas
- Nausea and vomiting
- Foul-smelling or pale stools (more common in children)
Along with digestive complaints, people with celiac disease (especially adults) may experience other issues that they may not even realize is caused by celiac disease. These symptoms include:
- An itchy, widespread rash
- Ulcers of the mouth
- Joint pain
- Iron deficiency anemia
- Headaches or migraines
- Numbness or tingling of the hands and feet
Diagnosing Celiac Disease
If you believe you might have celiac disease you must see a gastroenterologist right away; however, you don’t want to change up your diet before seeing a doctor, as avoiding gluten could affect your test results. Two blood tests are most often used to check your body’s immune response to gluten. If there is an indication that you could have celiac disease based on your blood test results, then your doctor may recommend an endoscopy to check the lining of the small intestines for damage.
Treating Celiac Disease
The only way to truly manage celiac disease is to stick to a gluten-free diet. This means staying vigilant when reading labels, as gluten isn’t just found in food but also medications and non-food items such as lipsticks, nutritional supplements, vitamins, over-the-counter medications, and toothpaste. If you are dealing with anemia or other nutritional deficiencies as a result of celiac your doctor may also prescribe certain medications such as iron, vitamin B12, or vitamin D.