Celiac Disease What is celiac disease?
Celiac disease is a digestive disease that damages the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food. People who have celiac disease cannot tolerate gluten, a protein in wheat, rye, and barley. Gluten is found mainly in foods but may also be found in everyday products such as medicines, vitamins, and lip balms. When people with celiac disease eat foods or use products containing gluten, their immune system responds by damaging or destroying villi, the tiny, fingerlike protrusions lining the small intestine. Villi normally allow nutrients from food to be absorbed through the walls of the small intestine into the bloodstream. Without healthy villi, a person becomes malnourished, no matter how much food one eats. Celiac disease is both a disease of malabsorption (meaning nutrients are not absorbed properly) and an abnormal immune reaction to gluten. Celiac disease is also known as celiac sprue, nontropical sprue, and glutensensitive enteropathy. Celiac disease is genetic, meaning it runs in families. Sometimes the disease is triggered (or becomes active for the first time) after surgery, pregnancy, childbirth, viral infection, or severe emotional stress.
What other health problems do people with celiac disease have?
People with celiac disease tend to have other diseases in which the immune system attacks the body's healthy cells and tissues. The connection between celiac disease and these diseases may be genetic.
They include type 1 diabetes, autoimmune thyroid disease, autoimmune liver disease, rheumatoid arthritis, Addison's disease, a condition in which the glands that produce critical hormones are damaged,
Sjögren's syndrome, a condition in which the glands that produce tears and saliva are destroyed.
How is celiac disease treated?
Sadly celiac disease is uncurable and the only treatment for celiac disease is a glutenfree diet. Doctors may ask a newly diagnosed person to work with a dietitian on a glutenfree diet plan. A dietitian is a health care professional who specializes in food and nutrition. Someone with celiac disease can learn from a dietitian how to read ingredient lists and identify foods that contain gluten in order to make informed decisions at the grocery store and when eating out. For most people, following this diet will stop symptoms, heal existing intestinal damage, and prevent further damage. Improvement begins within days of starting the diet. The small intestine usually heals in 3 to 6 months in children but may take several years in adults. A healed intestine means a person now has villi that can absorb nutrients from food into the bloodstream. To stay well, people with celiac disease must avoid gluten for the rest of their lives. Eating even a small amount of gluten can damage the small intestine. The damage will occur in anyone with the