Celiac Disease | Digestive Health Program | Loyola Medicine

Celiac Disease/Gluten Sensitivity

Overview and Facts about Celiac Disease/Gluten Sensitivity

Celiac disease is a hereditary digestive health condition in which people suffer from an intolerance to gluten. This intolerance causes the consumption of gluten to damage the small intestine in people with this disease. As a result, people with celiac disease must avoid foods with wheat, rye, and barley, such as bread and beer. This digestive health condition affects approximately one percent of the population in Western countries. Its onset can occur at any age.

Symptoms and Signs of Celiac Disease/Gluten Sensitivity

The signs and symptoms of celiac disease can vary greatly from person to person and are different in kids as compared to adults. The most common signs for adults are:

  • Bloating and gas
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Weight loss

Signs and symptoms in children younger than two can include:

  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Lack of appetite
  • Muscle wasting
  • Swollen belly
  • Vomiting

Older children may experience:

  • A delay in puberty
  • Certain neurological issues, such as ADHD, learning disabilities, headaches, lack of muscle coordination, and seizures
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Irritability
  • Slow growth
  • Weight loss

Causes and Risk Factors of Celiac Disease/Gluten Sensitivity

The exact cause for gluten intolerance and celiac disease is not known. People with an immediate family member with celiac disease have a 1 in 10 chance of developing the condition. In some cases, celiac disease is triggered after a significant health event, such as surgery, pregnancy, having a baby, infection or a period of severe stress.

Beyond having an immediate family member, risk factors for this digestive health condition include:

Tests and Diagnosis of Celiac Disease/Gluten Sensitivity

Research suggests as few as 20 percent of people with celiac disease ever receive a formal diagnosis for this digestive health condition. To help diagnose it, there are two types of blood tests that doctors can use:

  • Genetic testing, which looks for certain antigens used to rule out celiac disease
  • Serology testing, which looks for antibodies in the blood that indicate an immune reaction to gluten

If either test indicates that you have celiac disease, your doctor will likely order an endoscopy to look at the small intestine, and maybe get a biopsy of the tissue to see if there is damage.

Treatment and Care for Celiac Disease/Gluten Sensitivity

Right now, the only treatment available for celiac disease is to stick to a gluten-free diet. Untreated or poorly managed celiac disease can lead to:  

  • Central and peripheral nervous system disorders
  • Early onset osteoporosis or osteopenia
  • Infertility and miscarriage
  • Intestinal lymphomas and other GI cancers (malignancies)
  • Iron deficiency anemia
  • Gallbladder malfunction
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Pancreatic insufficiency
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies