What is Celiac Disease?

What is Celiac Disease?

Title: What is Celiac Disease

By: Tayler Silfverduk, RD

The gluten-free diet trend has taken the diet world by storm over the past few years. However, before it was a popular health trend, it was (and still is) the only treatment for celiac disease. What is celiac disease you ask?

Celiac Disease is an Autoimmune Disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease where the body attacks itself when the protein gluten is eaten. More specifically, it’s when the body can’t identify gluten as food. Instead, the body identifies gluten as an intruder and launches an attack that ultimately, causes harm to the small intestine.

The small intestine is where a lot of nutrients are absorbed. When the small intestine is damaged from celiac it can make it hard for the body to absorb nutrients. Additionally, it can lead to over 300 different symptoms.

Symptoms of Celiac Disease

As we mentioned, there are many symptoms that come with celiac. Common symptoms of celiac include:

  • Unexplained anemia
  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches and Migraines
  • Infertility
  • Painful or itchy rash (celiac dermatitis herpetiformis)
  • Irregular or slow growth in children

However, you don’t have to have visible or noticeable symptoms to have celiac. There is also what’s known as silent or asymptomatic celiac. This is when there is intestinal damage but no obvious outward symptoms to accompany it.

How do you Know if you Have Celiac Disease?

Before you try to self-diagnose, based on the symptoms above I have some bad news. The only way to know if you have celiac disease is to be tested for it.

This is because the symptoms of celiac disease overlap with many other conditions. Conditions like non-celiac gluten sensitivity, IBS, and more.

Testing for celiac typically involves a blood test to screen for associated antibodies and then an upper endoscopy and biopsy of the small intestine to assess for damage. Diagnosis is then typically made based on if there is damage in the small intestine.

Both the blood test and the endoscopy/biopsy are only accurate if you are still eating gluten. This is why it is so important to get tested for celiac before going gluten-free.

On some rare occasions, the blood test and the biopsy of the small intestine will result in inconclusive results. In this case, your doctor may request a genetic test to help them make a more accurate diagnosis.

It’s also important to note that just because you have the genes for celiac does not mean you have celiac. In fact, around 30% of the population carries celiac genes, but only 3% of these people end up developing it.

Just another reason to make sure you aren’t trying to self-diagnose. If you’re concerned you have celiac, always talk to your doctor.

Different Types of Celiac

There are 3 different types of celiac disease.

  1. Asymptomatic or Silent Celiac Disease
  2. Symptomatic Celiac Disease
  3. Refractory Celiac Disease

Asymptomatic celiac disease, or silent celiac disease, is when someone has celiac but no obvious symptoms. This means their small intestine is damaged when they consume gluten but they don’t get any noticeable physical symptoms related to it.

Symptomatic celiac disease is when someone has obvious physical symptoms of celiac after eating gluten. In other words, they may have a headache, diarrhea, constipation, stomach pain, and more shortly after gluten consumption.

Refractory celiac disease is when someone has celiac but their small intestine is not responding to a gluten-free diet. It’s when the small intestine basically isn’t healing and requires other interventions on top of living gluten-free. Luckily, only 1-2% of the celiac population has this type of celiac.

What’s the Treatment for Celiac Disease?

The only treatment for celiac disease is a gluten-free diet, or as we like to say, a gluten-free life.

Meaning, people with celiac have to avoid gluten at all costs. Even a few crumbs can be enough to trigger damage to their small intestine.

This is a big deal because gluten can be tricky to keep track of as it’s not just in our food. Gluten can be found in hand lotions, lipsticks, and even your medications.

Yes, you read that right. Gluten can be found in your medications.

At Cabinet Health, we know that staying gluten-free is important which is why we’ve made a commitment to the celiac gluten-free community to provide you with safe over-the-counter medications.

We understand the need for safe and accessible medications and we’re here to change the industry for the better.

Eating gluten-free is hard already but shopping for safe over-the-counter medications doesn’t have to be.

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