by Kimberly Allen RN
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder which means your immune system attacks healthy tissue by mistake. Celiac disease affects people worldwide including over 2 million people in the US, that’s about 1 out of every 133 people. Though this was once thought to be a rare childhood disorder is is now known that it is a common genetic disorder. People with a parent, sibling or child have a much higher incidence rate affecting approximately 1 in 22 people. Celiac disease is also more common in people with certain other conditions like down syndrome or type I diabetes.
Celiac disease is a chronic disorder affecting the lining of the small intestine. In a healthy small intestine it is lined with tiny hair-like projections, known as villi. These villi give the lining of the small intestine an appearance similar to a thick carpet. The villi are responsible for the absorption of vitamins and minerals as well as other nutrients in the foods we eat. Celiac disease damages the villi making the lining smooth so it looks more like a tile floor than a thick carpet. Without the thick carpet of villi the body is unable to absorb the vitamin, minerals and other nutrients needed. Though the exact cause of celiac disease is not known it hasbeen found to run in families. Also, there have been a few gene mutations which leads researchers to believe that there are other factors involved in determining whether or not you develop the disease.
Most experts agree that the symptoms of celiac disease are triggered by eating foods high in gluten like bread, pasta, cookies, and several other foods that contain wheat, barley, or rye. The symptoms of celiac disease can range from no symptoms or very mild to severe symptoms depending on the severity of the disease and malabsorption. The symptoms of celiac disease fall into two categories; those caused by malabsorption and those due to malnutrition. The symptoms of malabsorption are related to the inadequate absorption of fat and usually include diarrhea, foul smelling gas, increased fat in the stool making them appear greasy and light tan or grey in color. The stools are also usually large and foul smelling as well. The loss of villi also interferes with the absorption of lactose the primary sugar in milk and milk products leading to lactose intolerance.
The symptoms of malnutrition as well as vitamin and mineral deficiency would include weight loss, anemia, muscle weakness and fatigue, as well as fluid retention and peripheral nerve damage.
There is no cure for celiac disease, however your symptoms can be managed effectively with dietary changes. The most important thing to remember that it is critical that you avoid any foods that have gluten including barley, bulgur, durum, farina, graham flour, rye, semolina, triticale and all forms of wheat. In most cases your Dr will refer you to a dietician to help you learn how to determine what foods are safe to eat and those that aaren’t as well as how to plan a healthy gluten free diet. Then once you have started to eat a gluten free diet the inflammation in your small intestine will begin to resolve. Some people start feeling better with in a few days, however, complete healing as well as regrowth of the villi can take anywhere from several months to 2 or 3 years. Many Drs also recommend a vitamin and mineral supplement to improve any symptoms of malnutrition including a vitamin B12 injection monthly.
Living with celiac disease can be challenging , however in time it will become second nature to shop for and prepare gluten free meals. There are numerous resources available including gluten free cookbooks and other information on effectively managing your disease on line. Seek out support groups and others living with celiac disease they can be both a help and a comfort.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.