Celiac disease is a digestive problem that hurts your small intestine. It stops your body from taking in nutrients from food.
You may have celiac disease if you are sensitive to gluten. Gluten is a kind of protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and sometimes in small amounts in mixed oats.
When you have celiac disease and you eat foods with gluten, your body has a reaction that is not normal. The part of your body that fights disease (the immune system) starts to hurt your small intestine. It attacks the tiny bumps (villi) that line your small intestine.
The villi help your body take in nutrients from food into your bloodstream. Without the villi, your small intestine can’t get enough nutrients, no matter how much food you eat.
Celiac disease is genetic. This means it can be passed down from parent to child.
More than 2 million Americans have been diagnosed with celiac disease. Studies show that as many as 1 in every 133 Americans may have it. They may not know they have it.
Celiac disease is more common in people:
Celiac disease is a genetic disease that runs in families. You may have celiac disease and not know it because you don’t have any symptoms.
Some things that may make symptoms start to appear are:
Celiac disease affects people in different ways. Some have symptoms as children. Others have symptoms only as adults. Some people have diarrhea and belly (abdominal) pain. Others may feel moody or depressed.
Each person’s symptoms may vary. Common signs of celiac disease include:
Celiac disease can be painful. Some common pain symptoms are:
Children who have celiac disease may not grow at a normal rate.
You may have celiac disease but not have any symptoms. That is because the part of your small intestine that is not hurt can still take in enough nutrients. But you may still be at risk for problems of the disease.
Celiac disease symptoms may look like other health problems. Always see your healthcare provider to be sure.
Celiac disease can be hard to diagnose. Its symptoms may look like symptoms of other digestive problems such as:
To see if you have celiac disease, your healthcare provider will look at your past health and do a physical exam. You may also have tests such as:
If you have celiac disease, you must stop eating gluten. Eating gluten will do more damage to your small intestine. Eliminating gluten is the only treatment for this disease. You must not eat gluten for the rest of your life.
In most cases, taking gluten out of your diet will stop your symptoms. And, any damage to your intestine will heal. It will also stop any more damage from happening.
Removing gluten from your diet can be difficult. This is because gluten can contaminate many foods. It can be found in condiments, salad dressings, and other unexpected places. For this reason, your healthcare provider may refer you to a dietitian who specializes in celiac disease.
After you stop eating foods with gluten, your symptoms will likely get better in a few days. Your small intestine should heal completely in 3 to 6 months. Your villi will be back and working again. If you are older, it may take up to 2 years for your body to heal.
Article Last Updated: January 16, 2018
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