Celiac Disease and Gluten Intolerance: Difficult to Diagnose

Wheat Crossed Out - Gluten Free

Gluten is a protein compound that is found in wheat, and any foods made from wheat. It is used in foods because it makes dough elastic and helps it rise during baking. Gluten is also found in barley, rye, and sometimes in oats. In addition, it is also found in things like vegetarian meat-like foods, such as vegetarian chicken, cold cuts, and hot dogs.

For most people, consuming gluten doesn't cause a problem, but for others it can wreak havoc on their digestive systems. Some of these people have celiac disease, which is a situation where the intestines can not absorb nutrients properly because they can not tolerate gluten. The reason behind this is that when you suffer from celiac disease, the consumption of gluten causes your immune system to over react, and it responds by releasing antibodies that destroy the villi areas of the stomach and small intestines. The villi are little projections, similar to a very plush carpet, that assist in nutrient absorption.

Common celiac disease symptoms include abdominal pain, occasional diarrhea, and severe bloating. If it progresses it can lead to muscle cramps, joint pain, and mouth sores. With time it can lead to malnutrition because the digestive system can't do its job properly. Regardless of how much a person eats, if this disease is serious enough, they will not be able to absorb the necessary nutrients.

Note that gluten intolerance is different than celiac disease. Gluten intolerance is a situation where it causes uncomfortable abdominal pain when gluten is ingested, but there is no damage to the digestive system.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms a proper diagnosis is the first step. Be aware that sometimes celiac disease is sometimes confused with other diseases, so be sure to seek a specialist. If celiac disease is confirmed the best treatment is to avoid the consumption of gluten. A few years ago this may have been a problem, but with greater awareness these days there are many types of foods now that are gluten free.

These are other signs that celiac disease may be present:

  • Low albumin
  • High levels of alkaline phosphatase, which is also related to bone loss
  • Clotting factor abnormalities
  • Low cholesterol (although this may be a good thing if it is not caused by a disease).
  • Anemia

If celiac disease is suspected then a biopsy of the small intestine will be taken to see if there is a flattening of the villi. This can be repeated over time to see if the person is responding to treatment.

If you suspect that you have celiac disease, do not alter your diet until you have been diagnosed. The reason being, if you alter your diet first, then the physician can't monitor any progress that has been made since they he (or she) didn't examine you before beginning treatment.

Although there is no cure for celiac disease, a gluten free diet will allow the villi to regenerate. However, the more gluten you consume the worse it will become.

Other facts about celiac disease:

  • Women are more likely to suffer celiac disease
  • There is no known cause, but there is genetic predisposition
  • It can occur at any age
  • People with celiac disease are more likely to also have other problems such as:
    • Other types of autoimmune disorders
    • Down syndrome
    • Intestinal cancer and lymphoma
    • Lactose intolerance
    • Type 1 diabetes
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