Health A to Z

Celiac disease

Why avoiding gluten is so very necessary.

Celiac disease causes symptoms treatment

Celiac disease is a common digestive disorder that damages the small intestine and interferes with the absorption of nutrients from food. People with celiac disease are unable to tolerate gluten, a protein in wheat, rye, and barley. According to the Canadian Celiac Association, about one in 133 Canadians suffers from celiac disease. Many adults have celiac disease for years before they are diagnosed. The longer a person goes undiagnosed and untreated, the greater the chance of developing long-term complications, which may include anemia, osteoporosis, miscarriage, liver diseases and cancers of the intestine.

Celiac disease causes Celiac disease is genetic and is sometimes triggered — or becomes active for the first time — after surgery, pregnancy, childbirth, viral infections or severe emotional stress. When people with celiac disease eat foods containing gluten, their immune system responds by damaging or destroying villi, the tiny protrusions lining the small intestine. Villi normally allow nutrients from food to be absorbed through the walls of the small intestine into the bloodstream. Without healthy villi, a person becomes malnourished, no matter how much food they eat.

Celiac disease symptoms Common symptoms of celiac disease include anemia, chronic diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue, cramp, bloating and irritability.

Celiac disease diagnosis/tests If you are suspicious that you have celiac disease, talk to your doctor, who will likely order a simple blood test which can detect high levels of certain antibodies found in people with the disease. It’s possible that your doctor will also need to examine a part of your intestine using a thin tube called an endoscope that is inserted through your mouth down to your stomach, to see if the villi have been damaged.

Celiac disease treatment There is no cure for celiac disease and the only treatment is a gluten-free diet for life. Doctors may ask a newly diagnosed person to work with a dietitian to learn how to identify foods that contain gluten. In most cases, following a gluten-free diet will halt the symptoms, heal intestinal damage and prevent further damage.

Celiac disease prevention Celiac disease cannot be prevented but sticking to a strict gluten-free diet can help minimize symptoms. Also if you know someone in your family has the disease and you have symptoms, you may be more likely to get diagnosed and therefore treated early, which is beneficial.

More info from Chatelaine
Gluten-free pre-walk snacks

Outside resources
Canadian Celiac Association
Gluten Free Guidebook
Specialty Food Shop