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Celiac Disease: Uncovering The Condition

You may not have heard of the term ‘celiac disease‘. However, the term ‘gluten intolerance’ is one that most are familiar with. Consumption of gluten triggers celiac disease, which is an autoimmune response. It is also called gluten sensitivity enteropathy or celiac sprue. 

In Asia, celiac disease is an emerging condition, with 0.1% to 1.3% of the population diagnosed with it. However, its exact prevalence in Asia is unknown and varies based on geography and gender. 

In this first part of the 2-parts series, you will get to know more about the symptoms, complications, and management of this disease.

What is Celiac Disease?

Eating food that contains gluten triggers this autoimmune condition called celiac disease. Gluten is a type of protein found in grains (e.g. wheat and barley) that gives it an elastic and chewy texture. 

When a person sensitive to gluten eats food containing it, their body reacts to this protein. This reaction causes damage to structures in the small intestine known as villi. These are small projections found on the walls of the small intestine that absorb digested food. As a result of this damage, the small intestine cannot absorb adequate nutrients from the diet, leading to malnourishment and other associated complications. 

What Are The Symptoms Of Celiac Disease?

Diarrhoea

Loose and watery stool is one of the primary symptoms. In most cases, this symptom can be treated. However, diarrhoea can also occur as a result of other food intolerances or infections. Therefore, you will require proper diagnosis to determine the cause of diarrhoea. 

Bloating

Bloating is the feeling of fullness in the abdomen. This may be caused by an inflammation in the digestive tract. Avoiding gluten may help to control bloating. 

Flatulence

Flatulence is caused by gas building up in the digestive system. In a study conducted in Northern India, it was found that 9.4% of people with celiac disease experienced flatulence as a symptom. 

Tiredness

Fatigue or tiredness is another common symptom. This happens when you experience low energy levels that may affect their day-to-day activities. Some might even experience sleep disorders which can lead to fatigue.

Another cause of tiredness may be a vitamin or mineral deficiency the untreated disease.  

Weight loss

Celiac disease can affect the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food. As a result, you may suffer weight loss. This can affect individuals of all ages.  

What Are The Complications Of Celiac Disease?

Malnutrition

This happens when the body cannot absorb all the nutrients it requires. Children suffering from celiac disease may also experience slow growth rates and might be short statured. Bones may also become weak due to malnutrition. This can result in conditions like rickets in children or osteoporosis in adults. 

Infertility 

If you are of reproductive age, you may find it difficult to conceive. Individuals that do conceive may have higher chances of a miscarriage. 

Lactose intolerance

Your body may have a hard time absorbing dairy products due to the damages to the small intestines. It is good to avoid dairy products until treatment for celiac disease has been sought.

Nerve problems

A lack of vitamins and minerals in the body can cause nerve problems leading to difficulties controlling your movements. 

How To Diagnose Celiac Disease? 

Celiac disease is typically diagnosed through two types of diagnostic tests:

  • Serology testing: Identifies antibodies that develop in the body in the presence of gluten in the diet. Diagnosis is confirmed if your antibody levels are elevated. 
  • Genetic testing: Individuals prone to celiac disease normally carry a type of gene in their body. If you do not have the gene in your body, you are not likely to have the disease. Hence, genetic testing is used to rule out the disease. However, presence of this gene does not give a concrete diagnosis. Only a small percentage who have the gene will develop the disease.

How To Manage and Treat Celiac Disease?

The exacerbating cause is the presence of gluten in food. Hence, the best way to manage this condition is by maintaining a gluten-free diet. As such, you should eliminate food items that contain wheat, rye or barley. Gluten may also be present in certain medications, nutritional supplements, cosmetics and personal care products. 

If you have celiac disease, some food items to remove from your diet include:

  • Baked items like breads, cakes and pies
  • Snack items like cookies and crackers
  • Salad dressings, sauces and gravies
  • Beverages like beer 

Unprocessed food like fruits, vegetables, poultry, nuts, herbs, and spices can be included in the diet. 

In addition to following a gluten-free diet, a physician may prescribe vitamin and mineral supplements, and steroids to control an inflammation of the small intestine. 

Bottom Line

Celiac disease is a serious condition that can affect an individual’s overall health. It can cause serious health issues like malnutrition, weight loss, nerve problems and infertility. Hence, you should not ignore this condition.

If you suspect that you may have a gluten intolerance, it is best to consult a physician to get an accurate diagnosis. This ensures that you receive the proper treatment in a timely manner. 

Article is written in conjunction with Celiac Disease Awareness Month 2021.

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