What Are the Treatments for Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is an immune system problem, or an “autoimmune disorder.” More than 2.5 million Americans have it.

If you have celiac disease and eat a food that contains gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley), your body attacks your small intestine. This causes damage and keeps your body from getting what it needs from the food you eat.

There is no medication that treats celiac disease. To avoid the health problems that it can cause, you’ll need to go completely gluten-free.

Gluten-Free Diet

The only way to manage the symptoms of celiac disease is to eat a strict gluten-free diet. Eating foods without gluten lets your small intestine heal, and stops future problems and inflammation.

You’ll need to avoid any foods made with wheat and wheat flour. You also can’t eat foods that contain any of the following grains because they also have gluten in them:

  • Rye
  • Barley
  • Durum
  • Farina
  • Graham flour
  • Malt
  • Semolina

Talk to your doctor about whether you can eat oats. They could be a great addition to your diet, because some people with celiac disease aren’t bothered by oats. Your doctor will probably recommend that you only choose oats that are labeled gluten-free, to rule out the possibility of them being tainted with wheat.

Foods with Gluten

When you have celiac disease, it’s very important that you pay close attention to processed foods. Wheat flour is a common ingredient in many items, including those you might not expect.

Examples of foods that may contain gluten include:

  • Canned soups
  • Salad dressings
  • Ice cream
  • Candy bars
  • Instant coffee
  • Luncheon meats and processed or canned meats
  • Mustard and ketchup
  • Yogurt
  • Pasta
  • Pastries

What Else Has Gluten in It?

It’s in many other foods, medicines, and products that you might use regularly.

Things like over-the-counter and prescription medications, and vitamins and supplements might contain gluten. Wheat starch is commonly used as a binding agent in the tablets and capsules. Gluten is also in some herbal and nutritional supplements, toothpastes and mouthwashes, and cosmetic products such as lipstick.

You might want to talk to a dietitian about what gluten-free foods are right for you and how to meet all your nutritional needs. She can also teach you how to properly read food and product labels.

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Taking Supplements

Sometimes people with celiac disease can be deficient in certain nutrients because their body doesn’t absorb them properly. The most common include:

Once you start a gluten-free diet, your intestines should recover and you should be able to absorb these nutrients again. But talk to your doctor to see if you need to take a gluten-free multivitamin or supplement.

When Will I See Results?

Once you start to follow a gluten-free diet, your symptoms should improve within a few weeks. Many people start to feel better in just a few days.

Your intestines probably won’t return to normal for several months. It could take years for them to completely heal.

Children with celiac disease respond to a gluten-free diet dramatically. Not only do symptoms like diarrhea and abdominal pain go away, but any behavioral issues may also improve. Children also usually return to normal growth rates and quickly catch up in height.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on November 18, 2016

Sources

SOURCES: 

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. 

New England Journal of Medicine, 2007.

Mayo Clinic: “Celiac Disease.”

Celiac Disease Foundation: “What is Gluten?”, “Celiac Disease Treatment and Follow Up.”

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