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Celiac Disease


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Reviewed/Revised Jul 2022 | Modified Sep 2022
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"Celiac" refers to things inside your belly, including your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Your GI tract is the tube that goes from your mouth to your anus. The GI tract includes your esophagus (food pipe), stomach, and small and large intestines. Your small intestines are where food is absorbed.

Overview of Celiac Disease

What is celiac disease?

Celiac disease is a disease of the small intestines that keeps you from absorbing all the nutrients in your food. Nutrients include protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals. Not absorbing nutrients is called malabsorption Overview of Malabsorption Food you eat has to be digested before it can go into your body. Digestion breaks food down into its separate parts: Proteins Fats Carbohydrates Proteins, fats, and carbohydrates are nutrients... read more . Not getting the nutrients you need is called malnutrition.

What causes celiac disease?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease Autoimmune Diseases The immune system is your body's defense system. It helps protect you from illness and infection. The immune system usually attacks invading bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells. With an autoimmune... read more . The immune system is your body's defense system that helps protect you from illness and infection. In an autoimmune disease, your immune system attacks part of your own body.

  • In celiac disease, your immune system reacts to a protein called gluten, which is in certain grains

  • The immune reaction makes antibodies What are the main parts of the immune system? that damage the lining of your small intestines

  • Damage to the lining of your intestines keeps you from absorbing nutrients from food

  • Unabsorbed fat makes your stool greasy

  • Other nutrients that aren't absorbed cause gas and diarrhea

Gluten is a protein in wheat and anything made from wheat flour. That means there's gluten in bread, pasta, and many baked goods. There's also some gluten in barley and rye. Other grains, such as oats, don't have gluten. There's no gluten in vegetables or fruit.

Celiac disease runs in families. You inherit a tendency to develop it. But only some people in a family get the disease.

What are the symptoms of celiac disease?

Symptoms can start when you're a child, or they may not start until you're an adult.

Common symptoms include:

  • Not feeling hungry

  • Diarrhea, often with oily or greasy-appearing stool

  • Feeling bloated and passing a lot of gas

  • Feeling weak and losing weight

Because children are growing, they're more likely to have problems from malnutrition. Children may not grow normally and be short and underweight. Girls may not get their period when they should.

Not absorbing enough vitamins and minerals can cause:

Other symptoms include:

How can doctors tell if I have celiac disease?

Doctors do tests, including:

  • A blood test to look for antibodies to gluten

  • Biopsy from your small intestine

  • Sometimes genetic tests

With a biopsy, doctors take a small sample of tissue using instruments on the end of an endoscope (a flexible viewing tube) and then look at the sample under a microscope.

How do doctors treat celiac disease?

The main treatment is to

  • Stop eating any food that contains gluten

Even a little bit of gluten can be a problem.

It can be hard to stop eating gluten. Gluten is not only in bread products. It's in lots of processed foods, including in some soups, sauces, ice cream, and hot dogs. You can learn about eating a gluten-free diet from a dietitian or celiac support group, such as the Celiac Disease Foundation.

Celiac disease also gives you a higher chance of getting certain cancers. Not eating gluten can lower this chance.

Doctors may give you vitamins and minerals to replace any that you've lost. Doctors may also give you medicines if you have the dermatitis herpetiformis rash.

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