What is celiac disease?
Celiac disease is a problem some people have with foods that contain gluten. Gluten is a type of protein. It's found in the grains wheat, barley, rye, and triticale (a wheat-rye cross).
When you have this disease and you eat food with gluten in it, the gluten triggers an immune response that is not normal. This damages the inside of your small intestine so that it can't do a good job of absorbing nutrients from your food.
It's important to get treatment, because celiac disease can:
In children, celiac disease can slow growth and weaken bones. If it isn't treated, your child can get very sick. Call a doctor if your child is losing a lot of weight, has diarrhea, or feels weak and tired for many days for no reason.
What causes celiac disease?
Doctors don't really know what causes the disease. Having certain genes can increase your chance of getting it. You're more likely to have these genes and get celiac disease if a close family member has the disease.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of celiac disease include:
These symptoms can be very mild.
Some people vomit after they eat gluten. This is more likely to happen in children than in adults.
How is celiac disease diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and do a physical exam.
To make sure you have celiac disease, you will probably have an endoscopy. In this test, a doctor uses a thin, lighted tube to look at the inside of your small intestine. Your doctor can also take small samples of tissue to be tested in a lab. This is called a biopsy.
After your celiac disease diagnosis, your doctor may do more tests, such as blood tests to check for anemia. You may also have a bone density exam. These tests will help your doctor find out if you have other problems, such as osteoporosis, that can arise when you have celiac disease.
How is it treated?
To get and stay well, you need to avoid all foods that have gluten. For many people, this means changing everything about the way they eat. This can be challenging. For help, work with a dietitian who has experience with gluten-free diets. Together you can find foods you like that don't have gluten.
Avoid all foods made with wheat, rye, barley, or triticale. Don't drink any beer or ale.
You can still eat eggs, meat, fish, fruit, and vegetables. Flours and foods made with amaranth, arrowroot, beans, buckwheat, corn, cornmeal, flax, millet, potatoes, pure uncontaminated nut and oat bran, quinoa, rice, sorghum, soybeans, tapioca, or teff are also okay. Within 2 weeks after starting a gluten-free eating plan, most people find that their symptoms start to get better.
For a short time after your treatment starts, you might also need to stop drinking cow's milk and foods made with it. Most of the time, but not always, people can have these foods again after their intestine has healed.
Some foods that are labeled "wheat-free" may still have gluten. Gluten can be in things you may not expect, like medicine, vitamins, and lipstick. Be sure to read labels.
Watch out for the following phrases. They could mean that a product contains gluten:
- "Modified food starch."
- "Hydrolyzed vegetable protein."
Frequently Asked Questions
Learning about celiac disease: