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Celiac Disease: An Overview

Dec 23, 2007
Celiac Disease: An Overview

What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is the name attached to the body's autoimmune reaction to gluten which wears away the lining of the small intestine. Gluten, the cause of the disease, is found in wheat, rye, barley and oats.

Is this disease new?

No. It has always existed but, in the past, it was rarely tested for and rarely diagnosed. In the last few years, publicity about celiac disease has increased and so have the diagnosed cases. Celiac disease, which was once considered rare, is now known to effect one in every 133 people in the United States. Most cases are still undiagnosed and many people are walking around with the disease but don't realize that they have it.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptoms of celiac include diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, gas, bloating, weight loss or gain, chronic fatigue, headaches, anemia, psychological issues such as depression, anxiety and anger-control problems, sleep difficulties and a painful, itchy rash called dermatitis herpetiformis.

Is the disease hard to diagnose?

Yes. The disease can be hard to identify because the symptoms vary so widely from person to person. Not every person has the same symptoms and not all the symptoms appear in each person who has the disease. In addition, many physicians aren't well informed about the disease making a diagnosis that much harder.

How can I know if I have the disease? If you suspect that you may have celiac disease, see your doctor. Ask for a group of blood tests called a full celiac panel and a referral to a gastroenterologist. The gastroenterologist should perform a biopsy of your small intestine for definite determination of the existence of the disease.

Is this test conclusive? The answer to this question is both yes and no. There are many people who have severe reactions to gluten but have negative or borderline blood tests and/or biopsies. These people are said to be "gluten intolerant." The only way to determine if a person is gluten intolerant is for them to do a trial gluten-free diet. If, when on the diet, the symptoms disappear, that is a sign that you may have the disease. However, it is important to pursue testing if you suspect you may have celiac disease, if for no other reason than to determine that there are no other conditions causing or contributing to your symptoms.

If most doctors are unfamiliar with the disease, how can I explain to them why I think I have it? Yes, it is true that there are still some physicians out there who don't take a patient requesting a celiac test seriously. Because of this, we recommend that you bring along documented information from a credible source about the disease to your first doctor's appointment in order to discuss the possibility more professionally. It would also be constructive if you have kept a record of your symptoms, including the dates and times and duration of each.

Is there any treatment for the disease? The only current treatment for celiac is a gluten-free diet. This means that you should avoid all products containing wheat, rye, barley or oats. Nowadays most products are labeled if they contain gluten and there are many companies out there which manufacture food specifically for people on gluten-free diets. This makes the life of celiac disease patient much easier than it was even just a decade ago.
About the Author
Angela Morken is an expert and sufferer of Celiac Disease. She has been living gluten free for over 20 years now. She has a highly regarded guide to living with Celiac Disease at www.celiacreport.com
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