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Celiac Disease - Silent Starvation

Article Date: April 28, 2011
Partner Site: Gastroenterology Consultants

ASK THE DOCTOR: 

Dr. Rao V. Movva, M.D., FACG with Gastroenterology Consultants

Q:  What’s with all the gluten-free products we’re starting to see on store shelves?
Leigh from Moline

A:  You could say we’re seeing a gluten-free bonanza.  Locally, Stashu’s and Happy Joes’s Pizza have expanded their menus to include gluten-free options. That’s great news for patients with celiac disease, one of the groups for whom these products are intended.  Celiac disease is a chronic inflammation of the small intestine, which results in difficulty absorbing nutrients from the diet.  The cause of such inflammation in celiac patients is an allergic reaction or intolerance to eating foods containing gluten, proteins found in wheat, barley, rye and related grains.

In patients with celiac disease, digested gluten damages the finger-like projections called villi, which line the small intestine and help in the absorption of nutrients.  As the villi disappear in celiac patients, problems can arise from the damage itself and from the nutritional deficiencies that result.  Patients with celiac disease often experience fatigue and have an increased risk of developing osteoporosis, infertility and even nerve damage and some cancers.

Symptoms for celiac disease vary widely.  Though some patients may feel quite well, damage can still occur to the lining of the bowel.  The most common symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating and gas
  • Diarrhea
  • Stools that float or smell foul
  • Weight loss
  • Poor growth or weight loss in children
  • Anemia (low iron count)

Celiac disease can mimic the symptoms of more common problems, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome.  It is now recommended that patients with symptoms be tested for celiac disease.

About 1 in 100 people may have celiac disease, although it is believed only 1 in 10 celiac patients have sought diagnosis from a trusted healthcare provider. 

Q:  What if I think I might have celiac disease?

Your doctor can order a simple blood test that looks for antibodies most often present in those with celiac disease.  Three blood tests are possible; one of them, the gliadin antibodies is not as accurate as the other two, as it can result in false positives in healthy patients.  Traditional tests for allergies will not detect celiac disease.  Genetic tests are available to assist doctors when the blood tests are unclear, or when patients continue to have symptoms on a gluten-free diet. Establishing a firm diagnosis requires a biopsy of the small intestine which is obtained using an endoscope, a small flexible tube inserted through the mouth, into the stomach and small bowel. 

So far, no drugs are available to treat the effects of gluten intolerance on the small intestine. The one and only effective treatment of celiac disease is the removal of all foods containing gluten from your diet.  Once the small intestine heals from the inflammation caused by gluten exposure, the villi will grow back and the problems associated with the disease disappear.  

Avoiding gluten in the diet has never been easier.  An increasing array of good-tasting gluten free products can now be found at health food stores and online.  In order for celiac disease to remain in remission, patients must become very effective label-readers to ensure that gluten products are completely avoided.  To learn more about celiac disease and gluten-free products, go to www.celiac.org.

If you think you or someone you know might have celiac disease, talk with your physician.  To schedule a consult with Gastroenterology Consultants, call (309) 762-5560.

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