One in a hundred people worldwide suffers from an autoimmune disorder called celiac disease. If anyone with celiac disease consumes gluten, their immune system begins to attack the small intestine. The attack damages villi, the part of the small intestine that absorbs nutrients. The damage not only causes pain and discomfort but can lead to serious gastrointestinal problems. When left untreated, the body is at risk for developing a number of long-term health problems. In America today, many people understand the choice to be “gluten-free,” but few recognize the seriousness of celiac disease. Here are the four things you need to know about celiac disease.

1. “Gluten-Free” and Celiac Disease Are Not Synonymous

More and more people are choosing to eat healthy food, and our choices for organic, vegan, dairy-free, and gluten-free options have increased significantly. In some cases, choosing a “gluten-free” diet is trendy. In other cases, people have developed an allergy to gluten and must be careful to cut gluten from their diet. Celiac disease is not just an allergy, and it’s certainly not a choice. What sets celiac disease apart is the fact that it is an inherited, chronic autoimmune disease. We must be careful when assuming someone is being high maintenance if they choose to order a gluten-free meal. In the event of celiac disease, consuming even a small trace of gluten can cause lasting damage to their small intestine.

2. Celiacs Must Be Vigilant About Avoiding Gluten

After consuming gluten, someone with a gluten intolerance may experience uncomfortable GI symptoms for a period of time. But gluten will trigger an immunological response that permanently damages the small intestine of someone with celiac disease. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, but it is not limited to bread, pasta, and baked goods. Gluten can be found in drinks, sauces, cheese dip, crackers, salads, and ice cream. Cosmetics and beauty products have been known to contain gluten. Celiacs must be cautious about cross-contamination in their own kitchen as well as restaurants where gluten and gluten-free food is made. A gluten-free option isn’t safe if it’s been prepared with the same hands, utensils, or surfaces as food that does contain gluten.

3. Symptoms Are Not Limited to the Digestive System

While those with a gluten intolerance may experience various GI problems, those with celiac disease may have symptoms that affect their overall health. In fact, there are 200 known symptoms for celiac disease, many of which occur outside the digestive system. Children are more likely to have GI symptoms like diarrhea, abdominal pain, vomiting, or constipation. These symptoms are almost nonexistent in adults. Children may also have enamel problems on their permanent teeth, delayed growth, delayed puberty, irritability, and failure to thrive. Symptoms that are common in adults include fatigue, anemia, bone or joint pain, arthritis, depression or anxiety, peripheral neuropathy, liver and biliary tract disorders, seizures and migraines, multiple miscarriages or infertility, or a skin rash.

4. Undiagnosed Celiac Disease is Dangerous

It is estimated that 2.5 million people in the United States are undiagnosed with celiac disease. This may be because the symptoms in adults seem far removed from the intestine. But if celiac disease is left undiagnosed and untreated, you run the risk of developing long-term health problems such as early onset osteoporosis, infertility and miscarriage, anemia, lactose intolerance, central and peripheral nervous system disorders, Type 1 diabetes, and GI cancers. Research warns that the later someone is diagnosed with celiac disease, the greater chance they have of developing another autoimmune disorder. 

If you have any of the symptoms of celiac disease or someone in your family (parent, child, or sibling) has been diagnosed with celiac disease, make an appointment with GI Associates & Endoscopy Center today. We will test you for celiac disease, determine the best course of treatment, and help you successfully manage this autoimmune disorder.

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