You have probably seen food products labeled as being gluten-free. This is important for people with celiac disease, who need to avoid gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley.
If you have celiac disease and eat foods that contain gluten, your immune system reacts by attacking the small intestine. Over time, this reaction can damage the lining of your intestine and prevent you from absorbing nutrients properly.
About one in 100 people around the world have celiac disease. Doctors aren’t sure what causes this digestive system disorder, but it tends to run in families. Patients with celiac disease have genetic human leukocyte antigen (HLA) types DQ2 and/or DQ8.
You can develop celiac disease at any age. It may be associated with diabetes, a chronic skin condition called dermatitis herpetiformis or thyroid disorders like thyroiditis.
Patients with celiac disease often have no symptoms. If you do experience symptoms, they may include:
Your doctor will do a physical exam and ask questions about the symptoms you’re experiencing. A blood test or upper endoscopy may be ordered. During an endoscopy, a thin, flexible tube is used to look inside your small intestine. Your doctor may also take a sample of small bowel tissue to be tested in a lab.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for celiac disease. Most people can manage symptoms by avoiding foods with gluten. This can be challenging. A consultation with a clinical nutrition specialist may be helpful. Patients can still eat the vast majority of foods, including eggs, meat, fish, fruit and vegetables, plus other types of flour and cereals that don’t contain gluten.
If you have symptoms related to celiac disease, you’ll usually start to feel better after about two weeks of going gluten-free.
Your Mercy gastroenterologist and dietitian will work with you to develop a plan and a diet that’s right for you. Together, you can find foods that that will keep you healthy and satisfied.