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Definition of the Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune illness of the small intestine. It causes the body to affect the digestive system if food containing glutenin or gliadin proteins is ingested. The glutenin proteins are found in cereals like barley, rye and wheat. Celiac disease takes place when the body reacts strangely to the proteins like gliadin and glutenin. Celiac disease harms the inside layer of the small intestine and hinder with the absorption of nutrients from food. A person suffering from celiac disease can become malnourished regardless of how much food is taken.

The immunological reaction causes inflammation that destroys the lining of the small intestine. This reduces the absorption of dietary nutrients and can lead to symptoms and signs of nutritional, vitamin, and mineral deficiencies. Other names for celiac disease include sprue, nontropical sprue, gluten enteropathy, and adult celiac disease.

Celiac disease is common in European countries, particularly in Ireland, Italy, Sweden, and Austria. In Northern Ireland, for example, one in every 300 people has celiac disease. In Finland, the prevalence may be as high as one in every 100 persons. Celiac disease also occurs in North America where the prevalence has been estimated at one in every 3000 people. Unfortunately, most population studies underestimate the prevalence of celiac disease because many patients who develop celiac disease have few or no symptoms until later in life. In fact, a recent study in the United States suggests that the prevalence of celiac disease in the United States is similar to Europe.

Symptoms of Celiac Disease

The typical symptoms of Celiac disease may vary from person to person. Though the disease attack or affect the digestive system or the small intestine, the symptoms may occur at any other part of the body. Celiac disease may affect adult, children and even infants. In case of infants and young children the Celiac disease gets affected in the digestive system only.

The three major categories of dietary nutrients are carbohydrates, proteins, and fat. Absorption of all of these nutrients can be reduced in celiac disease; however, fat is the most commonly and severely affected nutrient. Most of the gastrointestinal symptoms and signs of celiac disease are due to the inadequate absorption of fat (fat malabsorption). Gastrointestinal symptoms of fat malabsorption include diarrhea, malodorous flatulence (foul smelling gas), abdominal bloating, and increased amounts of fat in the stool (steatorrhea).

The general symptoms of Celiac disease which are seen in children and infants are:

  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Weight loss
  • Delayed growth
  • Abdominal bloating with pain
  • Foul smelling and pale fatty stool
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Irritability

If some of these symptoms are observed in a child it may be considered that the child is suffering from Celiac disease. Children suffering from Celiac disease may suffer from problems like delayed growth resulting from malnutrition and short growth of height, delayed puberty and some dental defects.

In adults the symptoms of Celiac disease may not start with the problems in the digestive system. There are several symptoms of this disease that can be observed in an adult. Some of these are:

  • Bone loss or osteoporosis especially in women
  • Missed menstrual periods in women
  • Mysterious iron deficiency in blood causing anemia
  • Itchy numbness in the hands and feet
  • Bone or joint pain
  • Fatigue
  • Arthritis
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Infertility and recurrent miscarriage
  • An itchy skin rash known as dermatitis herpetiformis
  • Seizures
  • Recurring abdominal bloating and pain
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Pale, foul-smelling stool
  • Gas
  • Behavior changes
  • Muscle cramps
  • Pale sores inside the mouth, called aphthus ulcers
  • Painful skin rash, called dermatitis herpetiformis
  • Tooth discoloration or loss of enamel
  • Missed menstrual periods (often because of excessive weight loss)

Celiac Diseases' other symptoms of malnutrition and vitamin or mineral deficiencies include:

  • Weight loss and fluid retention - Weight loss is the direct result of inadequate absorption of carbohydrates, proteins and fat. However, weight loss may not always occur because patients with celiac disease often have enormous appetites that compensate for the reduced absorption of nutrients. Moreover, weight loss can be masked by fluid retention. Fluid retention occurs in advanced malnutrition because the reduced absorption of protein results in low protein levels in the blood. High protein levels in the blood are necessary to keep fluid from leaking out of blood vessels and into the body's tissues. When blood protein levels fall as in celiac disease, fluid leaks into many tissues (edema) but particularly the ankles and feet, which swell due to the edema.
  • Anemia - Lack of absorption of vitamin B12 and iron can lead to anemia.
  • Osteoporosis - Lack of absorption of vitamin D and calcium can lead to osteoporosis and bone fractures.
  • Easy bruising - Lack of absorption of vitamin K can lead to diminished ability of blood to clot and hence to easy bruising or excessive bleeding.
  • Peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage) - Vitamin deficiencies of B12 and thiamine may contribute to nerve damage with symptoms of poor balance, muscle weakness, and numbness and tingling in the arms and legs.
  • Infertility - Untreated celiac disease can lead to infertility in women, lack of menses (menstruation), spontaneous abortions and low birth weight infants.
  • Muscle weakness - Lack of absorption and low levels of potassium and magnesium can lead to severe muscle weakness, muscle cramps, and numbness or tingling sensations in the arms and legs.

There have been cases where the patient showed none of the symptoms of the Celiac disease but they suffered from the disease for a long time. Celiac disease if not treated for long time may turn into severe liver diseases or even cancer of the intestines. Sometimes people suffering from celiac disease can have no gastrointestinal symptoms at all. Statistics says out of hundred patients with Celiac disease just a little over ten percent shows the classical obvious symptoms of malnutrition such as diarrhea weight loss, and various other nutritional deficiencies. Some patients suffering from Celiac disease does not show any regular symptoms of the disease and thus does not get properly treated. Celiac disease often does not get diagnosed correctly and the treatment gets delayed considerably.

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Article Last Updated: 08/26/2015