Celiac disease (also referred to as celiac sprue, non-tropical sprue, and gluten-sensitive enteropathy) is a serious, genetic autoimmune disorder triggered by consuming a protein called gluten, which is found in wheat, barley and rye.
When a person with celiac disease eats gluten, the protein interferes with the absorption of nutrients from food by damaging a part of the small intestine called villi. Damaged villi make it nearly impossible for the body to absorb nutrients into the bloodstream, leading to malnourishment and a host of other problems including some cancers, thyroid disease, osteoporosis, infertility and the onset of other autoimmune diseases.
One out of every 133 Americans has celiac disease, equivalent to nearly 1% of the U.S. population. Unfortunately, 83% of the 3 million Americans living with celiac disease remain undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Celiac disease is a genetic disorder, meaning that it passes from parent to child via DNA. In some cases, stressful events such as pregnancy, surgery, infection, or severe emotional distress can trigger the onset of the disease.
Learn about Risk Factors for Celiac Disease.
With a wide variety of symptoms associated with celiac disease, gaining an accurate diagnosis can be difficult. To determine if a patient has celiac disease, a physician can screen by using a simple antibody blood test, sometimes combined with a genetic test. If a celiac diagnosis is still suspected, the doctor will likely perform a small intestinal biopsy for confirmation.
Learn more about Getting Tested for Celiac Disease.
Learn more about Celiac Disesase Symptoms.
The only current treatment for celiac disease is simple: a lifelong gluten-free diet. There are no medications or surgeries that can cure the autoimmune disease. Eating even tiny amounts of gluten can cause damage to the villi of the small intestine and prevent patients from absorbing nutrients into the bloodstream. Eliminating popular foods from the diet can seem overwhelming when a patient is first diagnosed, but with some extra effort in the kitchen, people with celiac disease can eat delicious food that tastes just as good as their gluten-containing counterparts.
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