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Celiac Disease Treatment

Currently, the only treatment for celiac disease is a strict, lifelong gluten-free diet. Eating gluten, even in small amounts, can damage the intestine in those with celiac disease.

A gluten-free diet means avoiding all foods that contain wheat, rye, and barley in all forms. It is important to read all labels carefully for these ingredients, as sometimes, they are listed under less common names.

For example, wheat may be referred to as the following on ingredient labels:

  • spelt
  • triticale
  • khorasan 
  • bread crumbs
  • durum
  • couscous
  • semolina
  • and more…

Despite these restrictions, people with celiac disease can eat a well-balanced diet with a variety of foods, including gluten-free bread and pasta.

Many gluten-free alternatives are now made with potato, rice, soy, or bean flour. In addition, plain meat, fish, fruits and vegetables are naturally gluten-free, so people with celiac disease can continue to eat these foods after diagnosis.

For a quick overview of the gluten-free diet and a list of some great alternatives, visit our Gluten-Free Diet page.

Following a gluten-free diet may seem daunting at first, but, with a little creativity, anyone can make delicious gluten-free meals. Visit the Gluten-Free Recipes section for delicious meal ideas.

Download icon Download: The Gluten-Free Diet Overview
Download icon Download: The Getting Started Guide

Follow-Up and Management

Celiac disease damages the villi, which are finger-like projections in the small intestine. Villi are responsible for absorbing nutrients from food. Because of this, it is highly likely that people with celiac disease will be deficient in essential vitamins and nutrients when diagnosed. Laboratory tests should be done within three to six months following a diagnosis and annually for the rest of your life.

Laboratory Tests for Celiac Disease Management After Diagnosis

Regular monitoring with blood tests can help to answer the following questions:

  • Is the small intestine healing?
  • Am I being followed and screened for common nutritional deficiencies and associated diseases?
  • Am I getting better?
  • Am I being exposed to gluten?

Laboratory tests to include in celiac disease management include:

  • Celiac disease antibodies (IgA-tTG)
  • Nutritional anemia profile (hemoglobin, hematocrit, folate, ferritin, vitamin B12)
  • Vitamin profile (thiamin, vitamin B6, 25-hydroxy vitamin D)
  • Mineral profile (copper, zinc)
  • Lipid profile
  • Electrolyte and renal profile
  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH)

Adults with celiac disease should have a bone mineral density scan within the first year after diagnosis.

The specific tests you receive will vary depending on your situation and your doctor’s advice. Please use these tests as a guide to your lifelong management of celiac disease.

While blood tests are extremely helpful, visiting a registered dietitian knowledgeable of celiac disease and the gluten-free diet is considered the “gold standard” for understanding how to know if you are accidentally being exposed to gluten (even if symptoms are not present).

Celiac Disease Management

The American Gastroenterological Association and the American College of Gastroenterology recommend regular healthcare follow-up with a physician and dietitian for those with celiac disease. This care is seen as critical in providing patients with accurate information about the gluten-free diet, which is currently the only treatment for celiac disease, and improving adherence to it. Managing Celiac Disease Involves:

  • Lifelong adherence to the gluten-free diet
  • A team approach with skilled physicians and dietitian
  • Education about celiac disease and the gluten-free diet
  • Identifying credible support and advocacy groups
  • Potentially discussing the need for a psychologist who can help with acceptance and coping
  • Educating relatives, including asking for their support and for them to be tested
  • Regular follow-up care and testing

Pediatric celiac disease management should also focus on monitoring the child’s growth, discussing the need for a 504 plan at the child’s school, and age-specific support groups and/or summer camps.

Learn more about celiac disease management and monitoring.

Future Celiac Disease Treatments

While the gluten-free diet has proven to be an effective treatment for many with celiac disease, there are many challenges in adopting and maintaining a gluten-free diet that can impact a person’s quality of life and long-term health outcomes. Additionally, 30 percent of those with celiac disease are not healing on the gluten-free diet alone. Patients, doctors and researchers agree that there is a great need for alternative treatments that could replace or supplement the gluten-free diet.

Potential treatments for celiac disease are being designed to interrupt different steps in the disease process. Learn more about potential treatments:

  • Drug Development Pipeline
    Find the latest information about celiac disease drugs being studied, how they would work and how far they are in the clinical trial process with our drug pipeline.
    • Gut Reaction
      Watch our video, Gut Reaction: How Celiac Disease Is Triggered and How It Might Be Treated, which explains in detail how celiac disease works and how scientists are approaching ways to treat it. Find out everything you need to know about how gluten damages the intestines of those with celiac disease. Follow the path it takes in your body and see a demonstration of how potential treatments could work.

    Dermatitis Herpetiformis Treatments

    Dermatitis herpetiformis (DH) is the severe skin rash associated with celiac disease. Its symptoms are extremely itchy and blistering skin. Sometimes referred to as gluten rash or celiac rash, DH is a chronic condition that is considered to be the skin form of celiac disease.

    Dermatitis herpetiformis treatment consists of a lifelong gluten-free diet, just like celiac disease. The skin’s response to the gluten-free diet is much slower compared to the healing of the intestines with celiac disease. It may take about six months to achieve some improvement in the skin condition and up to two years or more to get total control through the gluten-free diet alone.

    Rash symptoms can be controlled with medications, such as Dapsone. In general, itching and new lesions will begin to subside within 48-72 hours of starting Dapsone. However, this medication does not treat the intestinal condition, meaning that people with DH should also maintain a strict lifelong gluten-free diet.

    Learn more about Dermatitis Herpetiformis.

    Think you may have celiac disease?

    Symptoms Checklist