Prevention Healthcare

Coeliac Disease – Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Nearly three out of four people with coeliac disease don’t know they have this digestive disorder, and not following a gluten-free diet can seriously harm your health. 

People with this disease can’t eat gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Their immune system damages their small intestine when they eat foods containing gluten. 

Several symptoms are associated with this disease, which can differ depending on the age you develop the condition. 

It’s important to get a diagnosis to start following a gluten-free diet and reduce the risk of further damage to your intestine and other complications. This article covers the symptoms, causes, and treatment of coeliac disease.

What is a Coeliac Disease?

Coeliac disease is a chronic disease of the digestive system of immune origin, characterised by permanent intolerance to a protein called gluten, which is present in cereals (wheat, oats, barley, or rye). 

When the patient eats foods that contain gluten, the small intestine’s lining is damaged, reducing its ability to absorb nutrients. Without treatment, people affected by this disorder suffer from malnutrition and various associated diseases. However, not all people with this disease have symptoms; therefore, it can go unnoticed for a long time.

Any ingested food undergoes a digestion process that breaks down the food into smaller particles so that our body can absorb them. 

The absorption of these particles occurs in the small intestine, and, for this to happen, the existence of villi is necessary, which are like tiny roots lining the inside of the small intestine. 

The absorption process shortens when villus length is reduced, resulting in poor nutrition. In coeliac disease, too, a reduction in the size of the intestinal villi occurs due to gluten intolerance.

What Are the Symptoms of Coeliac Disease?

The symptoms of coeliac disease are numerous and varied and can vary considerably from person to person. Coeliac disease symptoms in children appear shortly after starting cereal feeding, presenting a malabsorption syndrome, which translates into chronic and persistent diarrhoea, growth retardation, bulging of the belly, and oedema or the swelling of the legs.

Children with this disease are probably irritable because they have abdominal pain that they do not know how to verbalise. Symptoms may also include canker sores in the mouth and sometimes inflammation of some joints. They are children who usually have anaemia if they are finally tested. 

Adults, in turn, usually show signs of fatigue, abdominal discomfort (pain, bloating), and anaemia.

The most characteristic symptoms of coeliac disease are:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Weight Loss
  • Anaemia
  • Frequent, soft, greasy, pale, and foul-smelling stools
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating, gas, indigestion
  • Bone and joint pain
  • Muscle cramps
  • Fatigue
  • Depression

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What Are the Causes of Coeliac Disease?

The exact cause why some people develop this disease is unknown. It is suggested that the fundamental cause of this disease is an immunological disorder occurring in the walls of the intestine. Gluten, a protein found in cereals, is the main trigger of this disease. The leading causes of this disease are:

  • Gluten: It is a protein found in cereals such as wheat, oats, barley, and rye. When people with this disease eat gluten, their immune system reacts by damaging the lining of the small intestine. This damage prevents the absorption of nutrients, leading to malnutrition and other health problems.    
  • Gene: There is a genetic predisposition to develop the disease. If you have a first-degree relative (parent, child, or sibling) with this disease, you have a greater chance of developing the disease.
  • Autoimmune disorders: These are conditions in which the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues and organs. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, type 1 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis are examples of autoimmune disorders.
  • Other Factors: Researchers are investigating other elements that might stimulate a person’s chance of getting coeliac disease. For example, it has been found that increased infections in early life and certain gastrointestinal tract illnesses may raise the risk. In addition, researchers believe that alterations in the microbiome, bacteria found in the stomach and intestines that aid digestion, might be associated with coeliac disease.

What is the Treatment for Coeliac Disease?

Test for Coeliac Disease can be performed with a simple blood test, which looks for antibodies produced by the immune system in response to gluten. The possible test and treatments for Coeliac Disease are:

Blood test: A blood test can look for antibodies produced in response to gluten. If the test is positive, the medical practitioner will perform a small intestine biopsy to confirm the diagnosis.

Biopsy: A small intestine biopsy is the only way to diagnose coeliac disease definitively. The biopsy will show damage to the lining of the small intestine caused by the immune reaction to gluten.

Diet: The only treatment for this disease is a strict gluten-free diet. This means avoiding all foods that contain wheat, rye, barley, and oats. Many gluten-free foods are available, and one may follow the diet without difficulty.

Support: Many organisations offer support and information for people with this type of disease. These organisations can provide valuable resources and help you meet other people with the same condition.

This disease is a serious, lifelong condition that can significantly impact your health. If you think you may have this disease, you must see your doctor for a diagnosis. Once diagnosed, you can start treatment and take the necessary steps to protect your health.

Conclusion

Coeliac disease is a condition that affects the digestive system and causes damage to the lining of the small intestine. Symptoms of this disease can vary from person to person and may include abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhoea, constipation, fatigue, and weight loss. 

There is no cure for this disease, but the condition can be managed by following a strict gluten-free diet. You must see your doctor for a diagnosis if you think you may have coeliac disease.

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