We hear a lot of talk about gluten these days, and for good reason since incidences of celiac disease (a serious intolerance of the gluten protein) have increased four times since the 1950s. Because celiac disease causes damage to the healthy tissues in the body, early diagnosis is important. For this reason, researchers look closely at early symptoms to identify signs in infants and toddlers.

Celiac Disease In Children

When people with celiac disease eat gluten, their bodies see it as foreign and begin attacking. This attack affects the small intestine and primarily the villi, which are projections that absorb nutrients from food. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, for a person with celiac disease to get necessary vitamins and minerals from food, no matter how much they eat. While this disease can affect anyone, diagnosing it in children is important in order to prevent issues later in life. Celiac disease can present symptoms as early as 9-24 months, the most common of these being gastrointestinal like vomiting, chronic diarrhea, and poor or no appetite. Toddlers with celiac disease often have a swollen belly and exhibit a failure to thrive. A recent study done in Norway showed that children diagnosed with celiac disease were smaller in height and weight than the average at infancy, revealing that this early symptom could be an indication of celiac disease even before malabsorption occurs. This study is too small to make a direct cause statement, but it does indicate where more research is necessary. Additional research may be able to give pediatric gastroenterologists a new diagnostic tool to combat celiac damage.

Children older than two with celiac disease may also experience gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea or constipation. They may also be short in stature and have significant weight loss. Many older children with celiac disease exhibit behavioral issues and irritability on a regular basis and may experience delayed puberty. Research has shown a link between gut health emotional conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Benefits of Early Diagnosis

The only treatment available for celiac disease is a strict gluten-free diet. The sooner a person with celiac disease can begin a gluten-free lifestyle, the better. As a person gets older, the symptoms of celiac disease can get more severe and more difficult to diagnose. Even in children from two to thirteen years old, celiac disease can cause weight loss and muscle atrophy. For adults, in addition to gastrointestinal problems, symptoms like anemia, joint pain, skin rash, mouth ulcers, and loss of bone density are common with celiac disease.

As you can see, identifying celiac disease early can prevent a long list of potential issues. The doctors at GI Associates can help you determine if celiac disease is the reason for your symptoms so you can begin addressing the problem right away. We have a pediatric department that is uniquely equipped to evaluate any symptoms your child may be exhibiting, so don’t delay; make an appointment today.

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