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What Is Celiac Disease?

You’ve probably heard all the hype over gluten sensitivity. It seems everyone is eliminating gluten these days to be healthier, lose weight, or even be a better athlete. What is the scoop on gluten sensitivity, anyway? The House Call Doctor is in

By
Sanaz Majd, MD
Episode #114
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Foul-smelling stools
  • Gas

Complications of Celiac Disease

Gluten Free Meal Plans

Besides the rather unpleasant chronic gastrointestinal discomfort, Celiac disease can cause some other complications as well:

  • Malabsorption
  • Vitamin D, B12, and folate deficiency
  • Anemia due to iron deficiency
  • Low bone density
  • Increased risk of infertility
  • Slightly increased risk of cancer – including lymphoma and some gastrointestinal cancers
  • Rashes
  • Increased risk of other autoimmune disorders such as Type I diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and Sjogren’s

Diagnosis of Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is easily confused with other more common medical conditions, like lactose intolerance and IBS. Therefore, if you suffer from some of those chronic symptoms previously mentioned, it’s important to rule it out. A simple blood test can diagnose it, however, it is very important to let your doctor know if you have been abstaining from gluten in your diet before your blood test since it can mask the results.

If your blood test shows that you may suffer from Celiac, your doctor may want to confirm it by performing a biopsy of the small intestine.

Treatment of Celiac Disease

There is no cure for Celiac disease. The mainstay of treatment is really to avoid ingestion of gluten in the diet, for life. Abstaining from gluten can eliminate symptoms in several months. But this is much easier said than done. Gluten is hidden in many foods, and it is sometimes very difficult to escape. Patients often report diminished quality of life as a result, and it may be necessary to shop at local health food stores to find a variety of gluten-free products. Always look for the gluten-free symbol on food packaging. Also, beware of gluten in some medications, food additives, and beer. It may be worthwhile to ask your doctor for a referral to a dietician to help you with this challenging task of learning to eat gluten-free. Thankfully, because of increased awareness of Celiac disease over the past few years, many gluten-free products have appeared in grocery store shelves that make it much easier for people with Celiac to eat well. Nutrition Diva has a few grain-alternatives.

Treating Celiac disease can improve risks for lymphoma and osteoporosis, and therefore is something that should not be ignored. It is also important to treat any nutritional deficiencies, including iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and folate.

In spite of what you have heard from the world of celebrities, adhering to a gluten-free diet without a true diagnosis of Celiac disease has not shown to be of any benefit. So if you aren’t Celiac, eliminating gluten won’t help you lose weight or be healthier, no matter what the internet myths say.

Patient Resources

http://www.aafp.org/afp/2007/1215/p1809.html

http://www.celiac.org/

http://www.csaceliacs.info/

Do you have Celiac disease? How do you cope? Share your story with us on the House Call Doctor’s Facebook and Twitter pages!.

 
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Gluten Free and Blood Test images from Shutterstock

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About the Author

Sanaz Majd, MD

Dr. Sanaz Majd is a board-certified Family Medicine physician who graduated from Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. Her special interests are women's health and patient education. 

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