Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes an abnormal immune reaction to gluten. When people with the disease ingest gluten, it can actually lead to damage in the small intestine. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, it affects about one in 100 people globally. What’s more is that as many as 2.5 million Americans are thought to be undiagnosed and, in turn, at risk for serious health complications. Gluten is a protein present in wheat, rye and barley. In addition to being found in food products, gluten is also present in some medicines, vitamins and lip balms, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC).
Celiac disease impacts the body’s ability to properly absorb nutrients from food. It is an inherited, genetic disorder that is sometimes triggered by surgery, pregnancy, childbirth, viral infection or severe emotional stress, according to the NDDIC. People who have a first-degree relative with the disease have a one in 10 risk of developing it themselves, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation.
Symptoms of celiac disease
Symptoms of celiac disease in young children can include abdominal pain, chronic diarrhea, bloating, vomiting, constipation and weight loss. For adults, the NDDIC recognizes different, non-digestive symptoms. This can include unexplained iron deficiency anemia, fatigue, bone or joint pain, depression, seizures, infertility and more. Experts recognize a connection between celiac disease and other autoimmune disorders. More specifically, people with celiac disease are more likely than the general population to have another autoimmune disease. Currently, the only treatment option for celiac disease is maintaining a gluten-free diet. This would include learning how to decipher ingredient lists to identify products with gluten. The good news is that following a gluten-free diet puts a stop to symptoms relatively quickly. In fact, the NDDIC reports that most people experience improvement in a matter of days. Intestinal damage that has already been sustained will also begin to heal. In children, the small intestine usually heals in three to six months.
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