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Is Celiac Disease Becoming More Common?

May 6, 2024

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Celiac disease is the body’s adverse reaction to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It’s a relatively common autoimmune disorder that affects more than two million Americans, yet it often goes undiagnosed, or misdiagnosed, because of its diverse range of symptoms.

What Is Celiac Disease?

“Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder triggered by ingesting gluten, which can damage the small intestine,” says Kamlesh Shah, MD, a gastroenterologist at Atlantic Health System. “A gluten sensitivity can develop at any point in life, from infancy to late adulthood. Although the exact cause of celiac disease is unclear, we know that a person’s genetics, environment and immunologic condition can all contribute.”

What Are Its Signs and Symptoms?

  • Abdominal pain/bloating
  • Diarrhea, constipation, floating stools
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weight loss, fatigue, anemia
  • Deficiencies in iron, calcium, vitamin D
  • Itchy, blistering rash
  • Headaches, neuropathy and brain fog
  • Joint pain
  • Osteoporosis
  • Infertility

How Is It Diagnosed?

If you’re experiencing these symptoms and think you may have celiac disease, start by eliminating gluten from your diet for a few weeks to see how you feel. Your doctor can help diagnose celiac disease with a physical exam, a discussion of your medical history and a few simple blood tests. If the blood tests suggest celiac disease, a biopsy of the small intestine can confirm the diagnosis.

“We are seeing more celiac cases because we are more knowledgeable, more aware, and have better testing for it,” says Dr. Shah. “We test for a genetic predisposition and antibodies in the blood and become more suspicious if certain blood test results suggest the condition. If we suspect celiac disease, we suggest performing a gastrointestinal endoscopy to see if there’s inflammation in the small intestine.”

How Is It Treated?

The only effective treatment for celiac disease is a 100% gluten-free diet. But beware. Hidden sources of gluten are found in many food products, so it’s important to read food labels carefully. Supplementing your diet with iron, calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12 is also recommended.

“When patients eliminate all foods that contain wheat, barle, and rye, they feel better right away and their health improves dramatically,” says Dr. Shah. “It can be frustrating in the beginning, but your body will adjust, and your intestines will heal. For people with celiac disease, eliminating gluten is life changing.”

  • Healthy Living