Celiac disease is a genetically inherited autoimmune disease that affects an estimated 1 in every 100-200 people in North America. Health Canada speculates that as many as 300,000 Canadians are affected by celiac, but many remain undiagnosed.
Celiac disease is a reaction produced by gluten containing foods. The immune system negatively reacts to gluten, producing inflammation to the lining of the small intestine, causing malabsorption of nutrients including vitamins A, D, E, K and folic acid, and the minerals iron and calcium. Gluten is a protein that is naturally present in wheat and other grains including spelt, kamut, rye, barley, and tritcale.
Symptoms of celiac can appear at any age. It occurs most frequently in adults between ages 30-60. The symptoms vary greatly from one individual to another. The symptoms are often similar to those of other diseases including irritable bowel, chronic fatigue, and fibromyalgia. These confounding symptoms are what makes this disease so difficult to diagnose.
Children may also display vomiting, poor growth, irritability and behavior changes, delayed puberty and poor dental enamel development. Long term effects of undiagnosed and untreated celiac include infertility in males and females, poor health, miscarriage, osteoporosis, anemia, and gastrointestinal cancers.
Celiac disease is diagnosed using blood screening tests. The 2 most common and valuable tests are the IgA anti-transglutaminase antibody test and the IgA anti-endomysial antibody test. An intestinal biopsy is required to make a definitive diagnosis following positive blood tests. It is very important that individuals not commence a gluten-free diet until both the blood tests and biopsy have been completed, in order to ensure an accurate diagnosis.
To date, the only treatment for celiac disease is to maintain a strict gluten-free diet for life. This may be challenging for individuals as gluten is often a hidden additive in many processed food products and medications.
Symptoms of Celiac Disease Include:
- Abdominal bloating and gas
- Recurring diarrhea
- Extreme weakness/fatigue
- Easy bruising
- Bone and joint pain
- Swollen ankles and hands
- Mouth sores
- Infertility and miscarriages
- Migraine headaches
- Neurological conditions
The information above is intended for informational purposes only. Always consult with your health care provider if this is suitable for you.