Celiac disease is a digestive condition in which the lining of the small intestine is damaged or destroyed and cannot normally absorb nutrients into the bloodstream. This damage is produced by an autoimmune response to eating certain types of grain protein called gluten. Found primarily in breads, pastas, and cereals, gluten is also an ingredient in many processed foods, such as soy sauce, canned soups, and ketchup. While most alcoholic beverages are gluten-free, beer must be avoided.
While some people with celiac disease may be symptom-free, most experience some type of digestive disorder, such as frequent indigestion, heartburn, acid reflux, and irritable bowel syndrome. Since the intestine cannot process food properly, weight loss and nutritional deficiencies are common. Another clear sign of this disease is dermatitis, an inflammation of the skin, and many patients suffer from fatigue and aching joints. New studies have revealed a strong link between the condition and an increased risk of osteoporosis. Calcium malabsorption also leads to dental problems, including decay and other tooth enamel issues.
There are essentially two tests used to diagnose celiac disease. The most common is an upper endoscopy, in which a plastic tube is inserted down the esophagus to take still photographs of the upper part of the gastrointestinal tract. This may also include a biopsy of the distal duodenum.
The second standard test is a serology screening, consisting of four tests looking for IgA antibodies, the presence of which indicates the disease. Medical professionals may recommend other tests, such as a full blood count or a liver enzymes count, but the two mentioned above are the standard rule for diagnosis. Because of its similarity to other ailments, this condition is frequently misdiagnosed.
There is no known direct cause for celiac disease, although scientists estimate most patients have a genetic susceptibility to the illness. The trigger could be anything from an environmental agent, to a virus, to early exposure to gluten. In fact, studies show that babies exposed to gluten early on, before the gut barrier is fully developed, have an increased risk of developing the condition later in life.
Strict adherence to a gluten-free diet is the only treatment available for celiac disease. Because there is no cure available, the dietary changes must be permanent. A gluten-free diet will result in improvements in just a few weeks, however, and if the diet is maintained, the intestine will be completely healed in about three months.