Celiac disease is an autoimmune response to gluten that causes damage to the lining of the gastrointestinal tract (stomach and intestines). Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. When an individual with celiac disease eats gluten-containing foods, their immune system overreacts and causes swelling, inflammation and damage of the small intestines. This damage leads to poor absorption of nutrients from food, weight loss, bloating, and diarrhea. Other symptoms include iron deficiency that results in a low number of red blood cells (anemia), vitamin deficiencies, low bone mineral density (osteoporosis), itchy skin rashes, defects in the enamel of the teeth, chronic fatigue, joint pain, poor growth, delayed puberty, infertility, or repeated miscarriages. Neurological problems have also been associated with celiac disease and include migraine headaches, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and recurrent seizures (epilepsy). The exact cause of celiac disease is unknown. However, certain variants within the HLA-DQA1 and HLA-DQB1 genes, which play a role in the immune system, can increase a person’s risk for celiac disease. Infections, surgery, childbirth, and severe emotional stress can all trigger this condition.
In order to diagnose celiac disease, a doctor may need to conduct a biopsy (removal of tissue) of the small intestine. A detailed medical history, a physical examination, and blood tests may also be needed to diagnose this condition. Treatment involves the removal of gluten-containing foods from the diet. Your doctor may also recommend specific vitamin and mineral supplements to ensure you are receiving proper nutrients. Medication is also available to treat damage that may have occurred in the small intestines. Talk with your doctor to decide which treatment option is best for you. Support groups are also good resources for additional information.