Celiac Disease: What you need to know

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October is National Celiac Disease Awareness Month. Celiac disease is on the rise - it is estimated that 1 out of 100 Americans suffers from it, according to research from the University of Maryland School of Medicine. That’s more than the number of people with Chron’s disease, ulcerative colitis and cystic fibrosis combined. Celiac disease is an auto-immune disorder that damages or destroys the lining of the intestines in reaction to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats. Celiac disease damages the villi or small finger-like projections that line the small intestine, making the intestine unable to function properly and preventing the absorption of vital nutrients. If left untreated, celiac disease can result in malnutrition and life-threatening diseases. The tendency to get celiac disease is inherited. It can be triggered by an environmental factor such as a severe physical trauma, emotional stress, viral infection, surgery or pregnancy. In the past it was thought that only children get Celiac disease, but anyone can be diagnosed, and in fact more adults are being diagnosed each year. The symptoms of celiac disease are vague and are often overlooked. But if you have been suffering from any of these symptoms for a long while without a diagnosis, you may have celiac disease and should be screened: Diarrhea, failure to grow, constipation, weakness, nausea, fatigue, abdominal pain & cramping, irritability, abdominal bloating & distention, depression, weight loss, weight gain, and joint pain. If left untreated you can do further damage to your intestine causing any of the following: Diabetes, chronic fatigue, anemia, depression, Osteoporosis, memory/concentration problems, gastrointestinal cancer, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, night blindness, miscarriage, delayed puberty, clotting disorders, mouth ulcers, tooth enamel defects. Several auto-immune diseases are linked with celiac including thyroid disease, Type I diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis. If you have a family history of these, you may be prone to celiac disease and should definitely be screened. Celiac disease has been reported for centuries, but treatment was not established until the early 1950’s, when gluten was identified as the cause. Since gluten damages the villi, the only treatment is to remove all gluten from the diet.