Celiac Disease: Symptoms, Causes, Complications, Diagnosis & Treatment
Celiac disease is a digestive disease that damages the small intestine and alters the absorption of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that food contains.
Patients with celiac disease should not eat a protein called gluten, which is seen in cereals (wheat, oats, barley, rye). When they eat foods having gluten, their immune system reacts and harms the small intestine lining.
Impaired food absorption leads to malnutrition, even if adequate intake is maintained, and this can cause a wide range of other symptoms, such as fatigue, weight loss, anaemia and bone pain. Celiac disease is a serious autoimmune disorder that affects children and adults alike. It occurs when your body's immune system attacks your own organs and tissues in response to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. This health guide will explore the symptoms, causes, and treatments of celiac disease.
Symptoms of Celiac Disease?
There is great variability in symptoms, and there are not always digestive symptoms. The symptoms presented by patients with celiac disease depend on the poor absorption of the nutrients contained in the diet.
They may report any of the following symptoms (combined or isolated):
- Chronic diarrhoea: This is the most common symptom that may be mild or severe. Chronic diarrhoea leads to dehydration and can cause problems such as weight loss.
- Weight loss: This may be the first symptom in some patients which may go unnoticed. If you have celiac disease and are losing weight without trying, you should see your doctor.
- Unexplained anaemia: Anaemia may occur due to the poor absorption of nutrients like iron, folate or vitamin B12. People with celiac disease may also have a low level of white blood cells, which can lead to fatigue and recurrent infections.
- Recurring abdominal pain: Abdominal pain is a common symptom, especially in children. It is often associated with other digestive symptoms such as diarrhoea or constipation. One should see a doctor if the pain is severe or persistent.
- Gases: Gases are produced when food is not properly digested. Undigested food also ferments and produces acids that can cause pain and bloat in the stomach.
- Bone and joint pain: These symptoms are usually related to osteoporosis, a condition that weakens the bones and makes them more susceptible to fractures. Osteoporosis is caused by the poor absorption of calcium and vitamin D in people with celiac disease.
- Muscle cramps: Muscle cramps can be caused by the poor absorption of electrolytes such as potassium, magnesium and calcium. In this case, they are often associated with other symptoms such as fatigue or weakness.
- Fatigue: People with celiac disease often feel tired and fatigued. This may be due to poor nutrient absorption, anaemia or other conditions such as anxiety or depression.
- Growth retardation: This is more common in children with celiac disease. It is caused by poor nutrient absorption, which can lead to stunted growth. One should see a doctor if a child is not growing at the expected rate.
Some individuals with celiac conditions do not report any symptoms because the untouched region of their intestine can absorb sufficient nutrients to prevent symptoms. However, even individuals without symptoms can have long-term damage to their intestines if they do not receive proper treatment in time.
Causes of Celiac Disease?
The cause of celiac intolerance is unknown, but it is probably due to:
- Genetic susceptibility to intolerance is often considered the leading cause of celiac disease. About 1 in 100 people are estimated to have genes predisposing them to the disease.
- Environmental agents, probably viral infections or other infections, are thought to trigger the disease in people with a genetic predisposition. Celiac disease is not contagious and cannot be passed from one person to another.
- Celiac disease is often associated with other autoimmune diseases also caused by genetic susceptibility, infections, or other environmental factors. The most common diseases are Type 1 diabetes, Hashimoto's thyroiditis and autoimmune hepatitis.
Complications of Celiac Disease?
Most of the complications of celiac disease are related to nutritional deficits secondary to impaired absorption of food: osteoporosis, short stature or growth retardation, congenital malformations in children of celiac mothers not treated during pregnancy, dizziness and seizures etc.
Celiac disease is also linked to some bowel cancers (lymphoma, adenocarcinoma).
How is Celiac Disease Diagnosed?
Diagnosis of celiac disease can be difficult because the symptoms that this disease produces also appear in many other diseases.
Patients with celiac disease have elevated levels of antibodies against gluten (anti-gliadin, anti-endomysial, anti-reticulin and anti-transglutaminase antibodies). If the levels of these antibodies in the blood are high, the way to confirm the disease is to study a biopsy of the small intestine's lining.
The confirmation of the diagnosis today is based on the concurrence of clinical suspicion, serology and intestinal biopsy compatible with celiac disease.
How is Celiac Disease Treated?
The best treatment for celiac disease is to sidestep all foods containing gluten, even in small amounts. Many foods contain gluten, and this protein is also present in many additives in manufactured products.
Even after adopting a gluten-free diet, recovery may not be immediate. The duodenal biopsies may take up to 2 years to be completely normal.
At the beginning of the treatment, in addition to the gluten-free diet, dietary supplements of vitamins or minerals that detect deficiencies are usually associated with favouring a faster human body recovery.
A small percentage of patients with celiac disease do not improve as expected with the gluten-free diet and require other associated pharmacological treatments. These patients are the most likely to develop complications of the disease.
Celiac disease is a chronic, inflammatory, autoimmune intestinal disorder caused by the ingestion of gluten in genetically susceptible individuals.
The only effective treatment for celiac disease is a gluten-free diet, which requires a great deal of knowledge and commitment on the part of patients to maintain strict control of their diet throughout their lives.
Celiac disease can lead to many nutritional deficiencies and other serious complications if not treated properly. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential to prevent these complications.
If you think you may have celiac disease, consult your doctor to undergo the celiac disease tests needed to confirm the diagnosis and start treatment.