"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.
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.
It causes problems eating food that contains the protein gluten, which is in wheat, barley, rye, and foods made from those grains
Symptoms include oily, bad-smelling diarrhea, feeling tired, and losing weight
Children won't grow at a normal rate
There's no cure, but people with celiac disease can avoid problems by eating a gluten-free diet
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:
Mouth sores and a swollen tongue
Thin bones that break easily
"Pins and needles" feeling (numbness) in your arms and legs
Other symptoms include:
Painful, itchy rash with small blisters (dermatitis herpetiformis Dermatitis Herpetiformis Dermatitis herpetiformis is an autoimmune disorder causing clusters of intensely itchy, red blisters and hivelike swellings in people who have celiac disease. In this autoimmune disorder, glutens... read more )
Leg swelling from too much fluid in your body
Trouble getting pregnant
People with celiac disease sometimes have other immune system Overview of the Immune System The immune system is your body's defense system. It helps protect you from illness and infection. The immune system's job is to attack things that don’t belong in your body, including: Germs... read more problems such as Crohn disease Crohn Disease Your digestive tract is the path that food takes through your body after you eat it. Food goes from your mouth (eating) to your anus (passing stool). Your intestine is the long tube in your... read more , type 1 diabetes Diabetes Diabetes is a disease in which your blood sugar (glucose) levels are too high. You get diabetes if your body's normal way of controlling blood sugar isn't working right. There are 2 types of... read more , thyroid disease Overview of the Thyroid Gland Your thyroid is a gland below the Adam’s apple in the front of your neck. Glands make and release hormones. Hormones stimulate other cells or tissues into action. The thyroid makes thyroid hormones... read more and other hormone problems, and rheumatoid arthritis Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) Arthritis is a group of diseases that makes your joints hurt, swell up, and turn red. There are many different types of arthritis. RA is a type of arthritis in which your body's immune system... read more .
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.