Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disorder which affects many organs in the body when untreated. It commonly affects the small intestine and results in an inability to absorb nutrients properly. Once thought to be rare, research now indicates that celiac disease (CD) affects 1 in 133 people in the U.S. and is considered to be widely under diagnosed. Complications of undiagnosed CD include anemia, osteoporosis, fertility problems, and malnutrition, to list a few.
Symptoms of CD may be gastrointestinal or seemingly non-intestinal. Symptoms may include anemia, constipation, diarrhea, malnutrition, weight loss, bloating, lactose intolerance, skin problems, dental enamel defects, failure to thrive, and muscle wasting. Some people have no symptoms whatsoever. CD is a multi-system, multi-symptom disorder.
The sole treatment for CD is a lifelong, stringent “gluten-free” diet (GFD). Commonly referred to as “gluten”, proteins which come from wheat, rye, and barley are harmful to people with CD and result in an autoimmune response when ingested.
In time, this response results in damage throughout the body. Wheat, barley, & their derivatives are abundant in the American diet, so the GFD is challenging – but necessary. Upon diagnosis, it is crucial for patients to receive education by a registered dietitian with knowledge of CD and the GFD. It is important to receive a firm diagnosis before beginning treatment for celiac disease.
Trisha Lyons, R.D., L.D.
MetroHealth Medical Center, Cleveland