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What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that is triggered by the ingestion of gluten.

When people with celiac disease eat gluten, their bodies mount an immune response that attacks the small intestine. This can lead to damage of the small intestine and malabsorption of nutrients.

Symptoms of celiac disease can include abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, weight loss, fatigue, and anemia to mention a few.

Celiac disease is a serious condition, and it is important for people who think they may have the condition to be diagnosed by a medical professional.

There is no cure for celiac disease, but the symptoms can be controlled by following a gluten-free diet.


What Are the Symptoms of Celiac Disease?

When you eat gluten, your immune system reacts by damaging the lining of your small intestine.

This can lead to a host of problems, including malnutrition, because your body cannot absorb nutrients properly.

Symptoms of celiac disease can range from mild to severe, and can include the following:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Anemia
  • Bone or joint pain
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Skin rashes

Children and adults tend to have a different set of symptoms.

If you have any of these symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor so that you can get a diagnosis and start treatment.



Causes of Celiac Disease


The exact cause of celiac disease is still not completely known.

It is believed that both genetic and environmental factors play a role.

Some people who develop celiac disease may have a genetic mutation that causes the immune system to attack the lining of the small intestine more often.

Other people develop the disease because they live such stressful lives that they lose immune system function.

Whatever the cause, the disease affects about 1 in 5 people in the United Kingdom.

About 60% of people with coeliac disease have an associated condition, such as Crohn’s disease or arthritis.


How Is Celiac Disease Diagnosed?

There is no one test that can definitively diagnose celiac disease.

Instead, doctors will often use a combination of blood tests, intestinal biopsies, and family history to make a diagnosis.

Blood Tests
A blood test for antibodies is the usual way to test for coeliac disease. You should include gluten in your diet when the blood test is carried out, as avoiding it could give an inaccurate result.

Intestinal Biopsies

If you need to have a biopsy, an endoscope (a thin, flexible tube with a light and camera at one end) will be inserted into your mouth and gently passed down to your small intestine.



How Is Celiac Disease Treated?

Celiac disease cannot be cured but it can be managed by following a celiac diet. If you have been diagnosed as having celiac disease, then you may also want to consider adopting a gluten-free lifestyle.

Many find that by eliminating gluten from their diets they experience improvements in not only their health but their general quality of life as well.

It can be very beneficial in helping you understand the seriousness of this condition and will help you to feel confident in your decision to go gluten-free as well.


The Importance of a Gluten-Free Diet


The only treatment for celiac disease is a strict gluten-free diet.  This means eliminating all foods that contain gluten from your diet.

It can be a daunting task, but it’s crucial for managing the disease. There are a few things to keep in mind when starting a gluten-free diet.

Eating gluten-free is important because it can help those who are intolerant to wheat.

The dietary shift helps the body properly digest food. Not only does going gluten-free offer relief from uncomfortable symptoms such as bloating and chronic constipation, but also it is considered a diet that will help with weight loss for people who are unable to lose excess weight no matter what diet or exercise program they follow.

It seems that this diet may have more of an effect on health than originally thought, since many claim to have lost weight, gained energy, and felt healthier after going on a gluten-free diet.

Gluten can be found in the following food items which should be avoided:

  • Candy
  • Potato Chips
  • French Fries
  • Cold Cuts
  • Soy Sauce
  • Sauces
  • Bread
  • Pasta
  • Cereals
  • Baked Goods
  • Alcoholic Beverages like Beer

Foods to eat:

  • Eggs
  • Meat and Fish
  • Grains
  • Fruits and Vegetables
  • Dairy
  • Nuts
  • Seeds



What Are the Long-Term Effects of Celiac Disease?


If you have celiac disease, it’s important to be aware of the potential long-term effects of the condition.

While the disease is manageable with a gluten-free diet, there are some potential complications that can occur if the disease is left untreated.

One of the most serious potential complications of celiac disease is malnutrition. This can happen because the damage to the intestine caused by celiac disease prevents the absorption of nutrients from food.

Malnutrition can lead to weight loss, anemia, and other serious health problems.

Celiac disease can also increase the risk for other autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes and thyroid disease.



What Are the Risks of Celiac Disease?

There are a number of risks associated with celiac disease, including:

When your body is unable to absorb nutrients properly, you may become malnourished. This can lead to weight loss, fatigue, and a number of other health problems.

Celiac disease can cause anemia, or a low level of red blood cells, due to the malabsorption.
Iron is an important nutrient needed to prevent anemia.

Anemia occurs when there is a lack of healthy red blood cells.

Your body gets iron from food, so anemia can occur if you do not have enough iron in your diet.


The Link Between Celiac Disease and other Autoimmune Condition

There is a strong link between coeliac disease and other autoimmune conditions, such as type 1 diabetes, autoimmune thyroid disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriasis.

In fact, people with coeliac disease are more than twice as likely to develop another autoimmune condition.

If you have coeliac disease, it’s important to be aware of the link to other autoimmune conditions and to talk to your doctor about any symptoms you may be experiencing.





When To See a doctor


Celiac disease is a multi-systemic autoimmune disorder that affects the gastrointestinal tract.
It is caused by an immune reaction to gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye.

When people with celiac disease eat gluten, their immune system reacts by damaging the small intestine, which makes it difficult for the body to absorb nutrients.

There is no cure for celiac disease, but the only treatment is to avoid eating gluten.

Although these remedies and guidelines might alleviate the pain, it is recommended to get a professional diagnosis from your doctor or gastroenterologist in order to discuss the way forward.

Dr Eduan prides himself on his ability to help his patients to the best of his ability by embracing good listening skills, effective communication, compassion and knowledge and skill honed during years of private gastroenterology practice.

If you would like to book an appointment with a gastrointestinal (GI) specialist or would simply like more information on a particular GI topic, don’t hesitate to use our online booking form 
or call Dr. Deetlefs at 021 551 867.


The information on this website is to provide general guidance. In no way does any of the information provided reflect definitive medical advice and self-diagnoses should not be made based on information obtained online. It is important to consult a Gastroenterologist or medical doctor regarding ANY and ALL symptoms or signs including, but not limited to: abdominal pain, haemorrhoids or anal / rectal bleeding as it may a sign of a serious illness or condition. A thorough consultation and examination should ALWAYS be performed for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Be sure to call a physician or call our office today and schedule a consultation.

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© Dr. Eduan Deetlefs, Registered Gastroenterologist, GI Doc Cape Town

Our website information is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a doctor about your specific condition. Only a trained physician can determine an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment.