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What is Celiac (Coeliac) Disease?

It is an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine that occurs in genetically predisposed people of all ages from middle infancy onward  that results in damage to the lining of the small intestine when foods with gluten are eaten.  The damage to the intestine makes it hard for the body to absorb nutrients, especially fat, calcium, iron, and folate.The intestinal damage can cause weight loss, bloating and sometimes diarrhea. Eventually, your brain, nervous system, bones, liver and other organs can be deprived of vital nourishment.

What Causes Celiac Disease?

The body's immune system is designed to protect it from foreign invaders. When sufferers with celiac disease eat foods containing gluten, their immune system forms antibodies to gluten which then attack the intestinal lining. This causes inflammation in the intestines and damages the villi, the hair-like structures on the lining of the small intestine. Nutrients from food are normally absorbed by the villi. If the villi are damaged, the person cannot absorb nutrients properly and ends up malnourished, no matter how much he or she eats.

What are Glutens?

Glutens are a form of protein found in some grains. These include wheat,  barley, spelt, kamut, rye and tricale. A gluten-free diet might also exclude oats. Medical practitioners are divided on whether oats are acceptable to celiac disease sufferers or whether they become cross-contaminated in milling facilities by other grains. The exact level at which gluten is harmless for people with celiac disease is uncertain.

What are the Symptoms?

  • There are more than 300 symptoms of celiac disease, and some people may experience no symptoms at all. 
  • Digestive problems (abdominal bloating, pain, gas, diarrhea, pale stools, and weight loss)
  • A severe skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis
  • Iron deficiency anemia  or low blood count
  • Musculoskeletal problems including muscle cramps, joint and bone pain
  • Growth problems in children because they don't absorb enough nutrients.
  • Seizures
  • Tingling sensation in the legs which caused by nerve damage and low calcium
  • Aphthous ulcers or sores in the mouth
  • Missed menstrual periods
  • Osteoporosis, a disease that weakens bones and leads to fractures. This occurs because the person has trouble absorbing enough calcium and vitamin D.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Celiac disease can be difficult to diagnose because it can present in a variety of different ways. The only treatment is a lifelong gluten-free diet.  An adherence to a gluten-free diet can prevent almost all complications caused by the disease. A gluten-free diet means avoiding all products that may contain wheat, rye and barley, or any of their derivatives. This is a difficult task as there are many hidden sources of gluten found in the ingredients of many processed foods.

Sources:

The following sites have provided in information for this page: Wikipedia  Post Independent  Web MD  Celiac. Com

Celiac Central. Please visit them for more information.