Celiac Disease: Causes, Symptoms, Types and Treatments
Commonly asked questions about Celiac Disease:
- What is it?
- What are the symptoms of it?
- What are the risk factors of it?
- What is the cause of it?
- What are the types of it?
- What is used to treat it?
- How do I prevent it?
What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease, also known as celiac sprue or gluten-sensitive enteropathy, is a genetically linked autoimmune disorder that affects children and adults. Eating certain types of grain-based products sets off an immune mediated response that causes damage to the small intestine. This in turn, interferes with its ability to absorb nutrients in food, leading to malnutrition and other complications.
What are the Symptoms of Celiac Disease?
Digestive symptoms are most commonly found in infants and children, and they tend to differ from adults. These are some of the most common:
- Abdominal bloating and pain
- Chronic diarrhea
- Pale, foul-smelling
- Weight loss
- Irritability and behavioral issues
- Dental enamel defects of permanent teeth
- Delayed growth/puberty
- Short stature
- Failure to thrive
Adults are less likely to have digestive symptoms, with one-third experiencing diarrhea. Adults are most likely to have:
- Unexplained iron-deficiency in anemia
- Bone or joint pain
- Osteoporosis or osteopenia
- Liver and biliary tract disorders
- Depression or anxiety
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Seizures or migraines
- Missed menstrual periods
- Infertility or recurrent miscarriage
- Canker sores inside the moth
- Dermatitis herpetiformis
What are the Risk Factors of Celiac Disease?
Both men and women are at risk for celiac disease; people of any age or race can develop this condition. However, some factors can increase your risk of developing it, including:
- Having a Biological Relative with Celiac Disease: The disease is genetic, and is therefore more common in those with a family history of the condition. This also means that if a blood relative has celiac disease, that person is at an increased risk for also developing it. 5-10% of family members of people are diagnosed with this disease.
- HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8 Genes: about 95% of people with celiac disease have the HLA-DQ2 gene and most of the remaining have the HLA-DQ8 gene. This allows for the assumption that you are at-risk, however it does not determine the disease entirely. If you have neither gene, you can basically rule out celiac.
- Autoimmune Disease: Thyroid disease and type 2 diabetes are examples of other autoimmune diseases that make it more likely to develop celiac disease.
What is the Cause of Celiac Disease?
The exact cause is still unknown. However, we know it occurs from an interaction between genes, which are carried in about one-third of the population. Eating foods with gluten after a prolonged period can establish one’s risk for it and researchers are still discovering exactly what it is that triggers it. Changes in genes, and others like environment can lead to celiac disease.
Sometimes celiac disease is triggered, or becomes active for the first time, after a viral infection or severe emotional stress. These occurrences can occur after surgery, pregnancy or childbirth.
What are the Types of Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease can be classified into three conditions, depending on the symptoms that a patient experiences. According to the World Gastroenterology Organization, the most common types of illness are classic, non-classic or atypical, and asymptomatic.
Classic Celiac Disease
Classic Celiac Disease often occurs in early childhood, but adults may also experience this condition. Small intestine damage can cause these symptoms in both age groups:
- Abdominal bloating and discomfort
- Muscle mass and weight loss
- Poor appetite and weight loss
- Failure to thrive and grow
- Rickets (weakening of bones)
Non-Classic or Atypycal Celiac Disease
Patients with this type of celiac disease don’t experience malabsorption or common small intestine symptoms, yet face conditions that are unrelated to the diseases such as:
- Iron deficiency anemia
- Chronic fatigue or migraine
- Unexplained chronic hypertransaminasemia
- Reduced bone mass
- Unexplained infertility
- Depression and anxiety
- Dental enamel defects
- Dermatitis herpetiformis
- Mild indigestion
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Bone fractures
- Vitamin deficiency for folic acid and vitamin B12
- Late menarche or early menopause
Asymptomatic Celiac Disease
People with this type of celiac do not show its typical symptoms. Instead they display:
- Loss of bone density
- Joint pain
- Headaches and migraines
- Subtle, early gluten atacia (damage in the cerebellum)
What is Used to Treat Celiac Disease?
A strict, and lifelong gluten-free diet is the only way to manage it. These include wheat, barley rye, and other grains.
Dietary supplements can work alone or in conjunction with other treatments to promote health, especially in those with the disease. These include iron (feridex, dexferrum) and calcium acetate (Phoslo, phoslyra) which help carry oxygen throughout the body and supply calcium respectively.
Folic acid and vitamin D supplements help promote normal body function, growth, and development.
How do I Prevent Celiac Disease?
It can’t be prevented. It is a genetic disease and if already diagnosed with celiac, you can prevent symptoms and further damage to the small intestine by managing a gluten-free diet.