Ask the Dietitian: Should there ever be an ‘s’ on the end of the word celiac?

Question: I often hear people (even health care professionals) say someone has celiac’s disease or just celiac’s. Which is correct, celiac disease or celiac’s disease? -Jen R.

Answer: Brilliant question, Jen! There is no ‘s’ on the end of the word celiac. The correct term is celiac disease. (Side note: The adjective celiac means relating to the abdomen.)

While we’re at it, many folks don’t like being referred to as “celiacs.” They are simply adults and kids who happen to have an autoimmune disorder called celiac disease. They don’t wish to be labeled as “celiacs” or be defined by their disease. In comparison, we don’t call people lupuses, anemics, MSers, cancers, osteoporotics, allergics, or rheaumatoids! Referring to people as “celiacs” and even to oneself as “a celiac” is a common practice within the CD community – and is certainly never meant to offend. However, I’ve heard from many whom it is does bother since their autoimmune disorder is only a part of them, not their preferred label or description. One little boy in my office explained that when people call him “a celiac,” it makes him feel like an alien.  🙁

Take home message: We should refrain from adding an ‘s’ to the word celiac. In both cases, as described above, it is either incorrect (no disorder by that name exists) or, at minimum, offensive to some (including the bright, articulate young man described above). The last thing we should ever want to do is cause any amount of pain to a young child with a genetic disorder because of the label we’ve assigned to him/her.

Trisha B. Lyons, RDN, LD

4 thoughts on “Ask the Dietitian: Should there ever be an ‘s’ on the end of the word celiac?”

  1. Thank you for writing, Barbara. Wow – 1958! You were at it back when life on the gluten-free diet was much different than today!

    Once commonly referred to as celiac sprue or gluten-sensitive enteropathy, it seems celiac disease has become the preferred present-day term. The name celiac sprue is seldom used anymore in medical journals or within the medical celiac disease community though I occasionally hear GI doctors refer to it as “sprue.” Different names, same disease… 🙂

  2. Well said! People with celiac disease have a diagnosis – it should not be their total identity! People will keep calling themselves and their kids “celiacs” anyway. The first time someone asked me if I was “a celiac,” I thought they were joking (they weren’t!) Bizarre!

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