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Celiac Disease

Celiac sprue symptoms and treatment

Celiac disease (alternately spelled coeliac disease), also known as celiac sprue or gluten intolerance, is a digestive disorder that affects the small intestine and the body's ability to digest gluten protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It is important to note that celiac disease is not a food allergy but an autoimmune disorder similar to Crohn's disease.

A celiac disease sufferer's reaction to gluten protein in their system causes the body's immune defenses to attack the small bowel tissue. This results in inflammation of the villi that line the small intestine, effectively killing them so they cannot absorb nutrients.

Celiac can occur in people of every age from infancy to adulthood, and the cause is unknown, though there does seem to be a genetic link. One of every 133 people in the United States suffers with celiac disease, and it is suggested that family members of persons diagnosed with celiac be tested even if they do not exhibit symptoms.

Symptoms of Celiac Disease

Symptoms of celiac disease include diarrhea or constipation, vomiting, abdominal pain and swelling (bloating and gas), fatigue, weight loss and, in children, stunted growth. Secondary symptoms can range from anemia and bone pain to mouth ulcers and tooth discoloration.

Because celiac is a multi-system and multi-symptom disease, diagnosis can be difficult. The disease may be confused with other bowel disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or Crohn's disease.

Some of the main celiac symptoms can lead to larger problems such as ulcers and narrowing in the bowel because of scarring. These changes to the bowel make it difficult for celiac sufferers to absorb carbohydrates and fats from foods, and can limit nutrient and vitamin absorption, especially of vitamins A, D, E and K. These vitamin deficiencies can lead to other heath issues like osteoporosis and intestinal lymphoma. For infants and children, deficiencies in nutrition and absorption can lead to serious malnutrition and growth delays.

Celiac Disease Treatment

Because celiac sprue is a chronic disease, there is no medication to treat it. The best way to control symptoms is to adhere to a strict gluten-free diet. If there is no celiac protein for the body to interact with, then the small intestine can function normally and continue to absorb the nutrients essential to normal intestinal (and overall) health.

Celiac Diet

Following a strict gluten-free celiac diet means patients must avoid unidentified starch, modified food starch, binders, fillers, extenders and malt, most of which are gluten-based. A dietician can help plan a gluten-free diet, educate patients about identifying harmful foods and ensure that patients still receive the appropriate nutrients. While celiac sprue treatment can mean a major change in lifestyle, adapting to a gluten-free diet can help celiac sufferers live healthy, normal lives.

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