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Celiac Disease Health Center

Learning to Live With Celiac Disease

You may not know you have it, but celiac disease can rob the body of nutrients it needs to thrive.
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WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Do you experience bouts of diarrhea from time to time?

What about abdominal cramping? Intestinal gas? Distention? How about occasional bloating?

Are you constipated ocasionally?

Has your doctor recently told you that you are anemic yet he or she can't seem to find a reason why your blood is lacking iron?

Have you had a voracious appetite yet still managed to lose weight?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions (or even if you didn't), you may have celiac disease, an autoimmune intestinal disorder characterized by the inability to digest gluten. Gluten refers to the protein found in specific cereal grains such as all forms of wheat (including durum, semolina, spelt, kamut, einkorn, and faro), rye, barley, and triticale.

When individuals with celiac disease eat food with gluten, the villi (tiny hair-like projections in the small intestine that absorb nutrients from food) are damaged and do not effectively absorb basic nutrients including proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and, in some cases, water and bile salts. Symptoms can include abdominal cramping, gas, distention and bloating, chronic diarrhea or constipation (or both), fatty stools, unexplained anemia or nutritional deficiency, and weight loss despite a large appetite.

But it doesn't stop there. Experts say these are just the classic symptoms. Other associated conditions and symptoms can include brittle bones or osteoporosis (due to the body's inability to absorb calcium and vitamin D), depression, weakness, lack of energy, infertility, and perhaps underachievement.

The good news is that going on a gluten-free diet can clear up these symptoms ASAP as well as stave off other long-term consequences of the disease.

Who's Got Celiac Disease?

You can't treat celiac disease if you don't know you have it, and experts tell WebMD that the disease is a hidden epidemic in the U.S.

According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, the disease affects one of 133 people, yet some statistics show as many as 97% of people are undiagnosed and it takes an about nine years for the average patient to receive a diagnosis of celiac disease.

"It's unclear if it's becoming more common or we can just diagnose it more," says Peter Green, MD, director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University in New York City and author of Celiac Disease: A Hidden Epidemic.

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