Understanding and Recognizing Celiac Disease

Article by · January 15, 2018

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the small intestine is hypersensitive to gluten–a protein commonly found in wheat, rye, and barley–leading to difficulty in digesting food. While there are only 40,000 known cases of celiac disease in the United States, it’s estimated that this digestive disorder affects more than two million Americans– including adults, adolescents, and children. People who have a first degree relative with celiac disease have a 1 in 10 risk of developing it.

Celiac disease can be difficult to diagnose because it affects people differently. Some develop celiac disease as children, while others later as adults. The ‘classic’ symptoms of celiac disease include:
•Abdominal Pain and Bloating
•Chronic Diarrhea
•Weight Loss or Failure to Thrive
•Pale, Foul-smelling, or Fatty Stool

Some of the less typical, non-gastrointestinal manifestations may include:
• Arthritis/Joint Pain
• Osteopenia/Osteoporosis
• Dental Enamel Defects
• Delayed Growth and Puberty
• Dermatitis Herpetiformis (itchy skin rash)
• Fatigue
• Depression or Anxiety
• Irritability and Behavioral Issues
• Seizures or Migraines
• Iron Deficiency Anemia
• Missed Menstrual Periods
• Infertility or Recurrent Miscarriage

Young children tend to exhibit more classic signs of celiac disease along with growth problems, while older children and adults tend to have symptoms that are not entirely gastrointestinal in nature. Recent research has demonstrated that only a third of adult patients diagnosed with celiac disease experience diarrhea. In fact, the most common sign of celiac disease in adults is iron deficiency anemia that does not respond to iron therapy.

If you are experiencing these symptoms or have additional risk factors, you should be evaluated for celiac disease by a gastroenterologist. Highly sensitive and specific tests can be useful screening tools. If celiac disease is suspected, an upper endoscopy with small intestinal biopsies is recommended to confirm the diagnosis. Once confirmed, complete avoidance of gluten is the only real treatment available at this time. Guidance from your physician or a registered dietitian can be quite helpful in maintaining a balanced, nutritious diet.

Atlanta Gastroenterology Associates offers comprehensive nutrition counseling at many of our offices–including the Emory Midtown and Stockbridge locations. Our registered dietitians have helped many people suffering from celiac disease achieve and maintain a healthy and happy gluten-free lifestyle.

The physicians at Atlanta Gastroenterology Associates see patients at more than 50 locations across Metro Atlanta. Plus, with four pediatric offices to serve infants, children, and teens, getting the right kind of care for the whole family is easy. To make an appointment, call 1.866.GO.TO.AGA [468.6242], or visit www.atlantagastro.com.