Today, three million Americans are living with celiac disease. However, we estimate that nearly 80% of those who experience its symptoms have not yet been diagnosed.

In addition to the uncomfortable physical symptoms of the disorder, Raaj K. Popli, M.D., board-certified gastroenterologist at Digestive Disease Consultants of Orlando, says patients suffer from vitamin deficiencies that can cause other health problems. 

What Is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder affecting your GI tract. Dr. Popli says, “Celiac disease is a common disorder of the small intestine that occurs with exposure to gluten, which is a protein found in wheat.” 

Celiac disease damages the delicate lining of the small intestine, affecting how food is absorbed. The small intestine is lined with tiny finger-like projections called villi. Celiac disease damages these delicate structures whose purpose in the body is to help you absorb nutrition from the food that you eat.  

It’s usually caused by a genetic predisposition to the disorder, meaning, if your parents or someone in your immediate family with celiac disease, you run a higher risk of developing the condition. 

Celiac disease affects people of all ages, and when left untreated, it can cause long-term health issues.

What Are the Symptoms of Celiac Disease?

celiac disease

The symptoms of celiac disease typically include:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea

However, celiac disease is notoriously difficult to diagnose because it affects people so differently. There are more than 200 recognized symptoms that indicate celiac disease. Most of these symptoms are centered in the GI tract, but not all of them. For example, some of the signs of celiac disease in children can include:

  • Constipation
  • Delayed puberty
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss

Adults can experience a loose stool related to celiac disease but can also suffer from:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Arthritis
  • Bone or joint pain
  • Dermatitis, a type of skin rash
  • Iron-deficiency anemia
  • Liver disorders
  • Migraines

Celiac disease is difficult to diagnose in part due to all of the symptoms that could be attributed to other types of health conditions. There’s even a disorder called silent or asymptomatic celiac disease, where the intestine is damaged but the patient doesn’t experience the classic GI symptoms.

Dr. Popli says, “Because it involves damage to the lining of the GI tract, there’s a whole host of symptoms related to that, which includes malabsorption of vitamins.” This can lead to other types of health problems. For example, if iron fails to ingest through the GI tract, the patient can become anemic. A lack of calcium leads to osteoporosis, a disease that weakens your bones.  

The Celiac Disease Foundation says undiagnosed celiac disease can lead to other illnesses such as:

  • Anemia
  • Central nervous system disorders
  • Dementia
  • Gallbladder malfunction
  • GI tract cancers
  • Infertility and miscarriage
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Osteoporosis
  • Pancreatic insufficiency
  • Seizures

How Is Celiac Disease Diagnosed?

Dr. Popli says, “The diagnosis is made with laboratory testing along with tissue sampling.” A blood test can check for certain types of antibodies in your blood that show up in people with celiac disease. There is also a genetic test that can look for specific genes that show you’re prone to celiac disease.

Your doctor may also order an endoscopy, which allows the doctor to check the small intestine for any damage. This process inserts a tiny scope with a camera into your intestinal tract. The doctor will likely take a sample of the tissue from the inside of your small intestine to check for evidence of celiac disease. This entire process takes about 15 minutes and can be done in your doctor’s office.

What Treatments Can Help My Celiac Disease?

There is no medication available to treat celiac disease, but you can find relief by changing your diet. The treatment for celiac disease, according to Dr. Popli is very simple; patients should avoid gluten. 

When Dr. Popli’s patients change their diets, he says, “Many times, the symptoms do resolve.” Studies related to celiac disease have shown similar results. Additionally, if the villi in the small intestine can begin to heal, food is reabsorbed properly, which will help improve overall health.

Gluten is the protein binder found in wheat products such as:

  • Barley
  • Durum
  • Einkorn
  • Emmer
  • Farina
  • Farro
  • Graham
  • Khorasan
  • Rye
  • Semolina
  • Spelt
  • Triticale
  • Wheat
  • Wheatberries

Many processed foods contain gluten. For example:

  • Baked goods
  • Beer
  • Breads
  • Cereals
  • Food coloring
  • Salad dressings
  • Snack foods like crackers, seasoned nuts, flavored chips, and pretzels
  • Soups

These days, most stores have gluten-free products on their shelves. Cutting out gluten from your diet doesn’t mean that you can’t eat well. On the contrary, you’ll eat more healthy foods that will reduce the inflammation in your intestines and allow you to live a more comfortable and happy life.

What’s a Gluten-Free Diet Like?

There are plenty of foods you can eat on a gluten-free diet. Generally, avoid anything processed and stick to these foods that are naturally gluten free:

  • celiac diseaseEggs
  • Fish and meat that isn’t battered and fried
  • Fruits
  • Herbs and spices
  • Grains like quinoa, corn, or rice
  • Nuts and seeds that are not flavored
  • Plain dairy products that are not flavored
  • Oils and spreads, such as olive or vegetable oil and butter
  • Starches such as potatoes and non-wheat-based flours such as chickpea flour or almond flour
  • Vegetables

Changing your diet will not only eliminate celiac disease symptoms but may also boost your energy levels and make you feel much healthier. 

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of celiac disease, please don’t hesitate and reach out to the experienced and compassionate team at Digestive Disease Consultants of Orlando. Dr. Popli and the team are standing by to help you get your life back.