Celiac disease: It’s Not In Your Head

Guest-post by Donna Savage

Sometimes people experience disconcerting physical symptoms without having any idea what the source is. Often, the true cause of your discomfort isn’t just in your head. As has become increasingly the case, you may be experiencing this discomfort due to celiac disease, which frequently mimics various abdominal conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome, gastric ulcers, parasite infections, Crohn’s disease, and even anemia.

photo by whatmegsaid, Flickr

Celiac disease can affect the peripheral nervous system, brain, bones, liver, and other vital organs. The condition causes an immune reaction in the small intestines when consuming foods containing gluten, the protein commonly found in pasta, bread, and other foods made with wheat, rye or barley.

How do I know if I have celiac?

Tests are required to confirm celiac disease because symptoms can vary greatly from one person to the next. A complete medical history is usually required since celiac tends to run in families. Some people with the condition have no gastrointestinal symptoms at all, as celiac has no universal symptoms. Each person with the disorder may present a different set of symptoms, some which are far from obvious. General complaints common among celiac patients can include the following:

  • Recurring abdominal pain
  • Intermittent diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Rash and canker sores
  • Depression
  • Muscle cramps
  • Joint pain
  • Dental and bone disorders
  • Tingling sensation in the legs and feet

What is the treatment for celiac?

photo: Dag Endresen, Flickr

There is no cure forceliac disease. Fortunately, the condition can be managed with certain treatments. Some patients can tolerate small amounts of gluten without experiencing any systems. However, it is recommended that all patients diagnosed with celiac follow a gluten-free diet following initial diagnosis. A basic gluten-free diet includes:

  • Avoiding foods made from rye, wheat and barley. These include cereals, breads, cakes and pies, and pasta.
  • Avoiding oats, since some preparations may contain small amounts of wheat. Some celiac patients, though, may be able to tolerate small amounts of oats after a period of time on a pure gluten-free diet under a doctor’s supervision.
  • Avoiding some processed foods which may contain gluten. This doesn’t mean all processed foods should be avoided. Check ingredients carefully to be sure there’s no gluten in any of your products. Some common offenders include canned soups, candy bars, ketchup, salad dressings, yogurt, and instant coffee.

photo: Rachel from Cupcakes Take the Cake, Flickr

What are the risk factors for celiac?

Since celiac tends to run in families, a family history of the condition is one possible indication. It is important to note that celiac can affect anyone, even those with no known family history of the condition. Celiac tends to be more common if you have certain conditions, such as Down syndrome, microscopic colitis, type 1 diabetes, and autoimmune thyroid disease.

What are the possible complications associated with celiac?

Malnutrition is possible, since certain vital nutrients may not be getting absorbed into the bloodstream. This could result in anemia, weight loss or stunted growth and delayed development in children. Loss of calcium and bone density is also possible, especially if excessive amounts of calcium and vitamin D are lost. Due to damage to the small intestine, some people suffering from untreated celiac may become lactose intolerant. People with celiac who do not follow a gluten-free diet may increase their chances of acquiring some cancers, such as bowel cancer and intestinal lymphoma. All that said, it is important to realize that with a proper diet and adequate treatment, you can still lead a perfectly normal life with celiac disease.

Donna Savage is a nutritional counselor with a family history of digestive problems. Irritable Bowel Syndrome Treatments can include all natural products as well as a healthy diet of specific food choices.

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