In another Life and Health article we already told you how you can put together a gluten-free diet , a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. On this occasion, we will tell you what celiac disease is all about, a problem that has quadrupled in the last 50 years and that forces those who suffer from it to follow a gluten-free diet.
Celiac disease is a common digestive disorder in people of European descent, occurring more often in women than in men. Also known as “celiac sprue”, “gluten-sensitive enteropathy” or “non-tropical sprue”, its causes are still a mystery although it is considered that there are hereditary factors that can cause it. Here you can watch our video on the subject .
In people with celiac disease, gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye) damages the small intestine and makes it difficult for food to be absorbed.
To put it simply, the small intestine has an internal lining made up of villi that normally absorb nutrients from the food we eat. Graphically, that gut lining when healthy is like a plush rug. In people with celiac disease, gluten damages the plush and the carpet takes on the appearance of a tile. In this way, food cannot be processed properly, which generates the different symptoms and complications from this disease.
The symptoms of celiac disease or celiac disease can be different from one person to another, some have constipation and others may have diarrhea, but there are cases in which they do not have any problem with bowel movements. This is one of the reasons why the diagnosis is not always made immediately. In fact, some studies suggest that for every person who is diagnosed with celiac disease, there are about 30 who have it but have not been diagnosed .
Among the main gastrointestinal (i.e. stomach and intestine) symptoms that celiac disease can cause are:
- Abdominal pain, bloating, gas or indigestion
- Constipation or diarrhea (which may be constant or intermittent)
- nausea and vomiting
- Decreased appetite (may also increase or remain unchanged)
- Unexplained weight loss (although people with celiac disease can also be overweight or normal weight)
- Lactose intolerance (which is the difficulty to digest milk and its derivatives). This is usually common when the diagnosis is established and usually disappears with treatment.
- Floating, bloody, foul-smelling, or “greasy” stools
In addition, because the intestines do not absorb many important vitamins, minerals and other nutrients from food due to celiac disease, other symptoms may appear over time. These symptoms may include:
- Propensity for bruising (accumulation of blood under the skin due to rupture of small vessels called capillaries)
- Depression, anxiety and/or tiredness
- Growth retardation in children
- Hair loss
- Itchy skin (dermatitis herpetiformis)
- Absence of menstrual periods
- ulcers in the mouth
- Muscle cramps and joint pain (at the joints)
- Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
- Short stature without explanation
For their part, children with celiac disease may also have other associated complications, such as:
- Defects in tooth enamel and change in tooth color
- Developmental delay (at puberty)
- Slow growth and below normal height for his age
Although celiac disease cannot be cured, if you follow a gluten-free diet for life, the symptoms disappear and the villi on the lining of the intestines heal.
So if you have celiac disease, it’s important that you:
- Do not consume foods, drinks, or medications that contain wheat, rye, barley, and possibly oats.
- Read food and drug labels carefully to check for hidden sources of these grains and related ingredients, or look for products labeled “celiac-friendly.”
- Seek the help of a professional specialized in celiac disease or celiac disease to help you with your diet.
While it can be a bit of a chore, at least at first, following a gluten-free diet heals the damage celiac disease causes to the intestines and prevents potential complications. This healing usually occurs after 3 to 6 months of treatment in children and may take 2 to 3 years in adults.
Rarely, long-term damage to the lining of the intestines occurs before a diagnosis is made, but some problems caused by celiac disease may not improve, such as shorter-than-expected height and damage to the teeth.
Also, without treatment, celiac disease can cause life-threatening complications . In this regard, a Mayo Clinic study found that people who did not know they had celiac disease were four times more likely to die than people without celiac disease.
In detail, delaying diagnosis or not following the diet puts you at risk of other related conditions, such as:
- Autoimmune disorders (in the body’s immune or defense system)
- Bone diseases (such as osteoporosis , kyphoscoliosis, and fractures – broken bones, for example)
- Certain types of colorectal or intestinal cancer
- Blood sugar level below normal ( hypoglycemia or hypoglycemia )
- Infertility or repeated miscarriage
- Hepatic (liver) disease
Now that you know the symptoms of this disease, visit a gastroenterologist if you consider that gluten may be affecting you. It is not recommended that you start a gluten-free diet without medical supervision, especially since you do not know if you need it or not, but take advantage of this information to determine if this is your diagnosis with the help of a specialist to find the solution to your problem.