What Is Celiac Disease?
There is really no clear understanding of the cause of celiac disease.
Hello, I'm Dr. Dan Neumann for About.com here to help you better understand Celiac Disease. Celiac disease, or celiac sprue, is a condition in which the body’s immune system responds abnormally to a dietary protein called gluten. This immune response can lead to damage of the small intestine causing the malabsorption of vital nutrients. Celiac disease can affect both men and women at any age and, with few exceptions, is seen worldwide. In the United States alone, three million people suffer from celiac disease. But before we learn more about the disease itself, let’s talk briefly about gluten, the primary offender in this disease. Gluten is a group of proteins found in wheat, rye, and barley that are toxic to those people with celiac disease. Gluten is not only contained in grains but it is also often a hidden ingredient in a large number of prepared foods, as well as some medications and dietary supplements. So what causes celiac disease? While there is really no clear understanding, it is generally thought that a combination of genetic and environmental factors play a role. What we do know is that gluten containing foods play a major role in celiac diagnosis and the removal of these foods are most important in the treatment. The toxic effects of gluten cause damage to the microscopic finger-like projections along the surface of the small intestine. It is the blunting of this normal absorptive mechanism that leads to the clinical manifestations of celiac disease including diarrhea, weight loss, and other systemic symptoms caused in part by vitamin and nutrient deficiencies. Left untreated, people with celiac disease can develop further complications such as other autoimmune diseases, osteoporosis or the thinning of bones, thyroid disease, infertility and even some types of small bowel cancers. So what symptoms do we commonly see in patients presenting with celiac disease? The most common symptoms include diarrhea, weight loss or delayed growth, anemia and generalized fatigue. Some patients develop celiac symptoms early in life, while others may feel healthy far into later life. And while most patients have outward symptoms of gluten sensitivity, a small number of people with celiac disease may be symptom free. I hope this has provided you with a better basic understanding of celiac disease. Again, I’m Dr. Dan Neumann and for more information on this topic and others, visit us on the web at health.about.com.