Celiac Disease

Overview

"Celiac" is a common term today, and is often paired with "gluten free." With all this talk, you may be wondering "What is gluten, anyway?"

Gluten is a protein naturally found in wheat, rye and barley, as well as in hybrids and products made from these grains. Both celiac disease and gluten intolerance refer to the way certain people’s bodies react when they consume gluten-containing foods. While both conditions lead to similar symptoms, they actually differ in several important ways:

  • Celiac disease – sometimes referred to as celiac sprue or gluten enteropathy - is a hereditary autoimmune disorder that occurs when the lining of the small intestine gets inflamed and damaged due to a bodily reaction to eating gluten. Left untreated, this condition can lead to other serious health problems.
  • Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), or gluten allergy, differs from celiac disease because it is not hereditary or autoimmune-related and there are no defined tests to diagnose the condition.

Both conditions may cause gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea, cramping or constipation. Celiac disease symptoms can be more serious in nature, and may lead to malnutrition and infertility if left untreated. Those with a gluten intolerance may experience fatigue, irritability, nausea, skin problems and allergic reactions when eating foods containing gluten.

Both conditions require a life-long commitment to a gluten-free lifestyle.

Causes

Celiac disease can develop at any age and is estimated to affect 1 in 100 people. The following individuals have a heightened risk for developing celiac disease:

  • Women
  • Those with a biological relative who has celiac disease
  • Those diagnosed with other autoimmune diseases
  • Those who have the HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8 genes

Symptoms

Celiac disease symptoms vary from person to person. The most common include chronic diarrhea and weight loss, though that can be misleading - only 1/3 of adults with celiac disease have diarrhea, and only about 1/2 lose weight. In fact, some people experience constipation or weight gain because of celiac disease. Digestive symptoms are more common in infants and children than in adults.

Other symptoms of celiac disease may include:

  • Anemia
  • Bloating
  • Bone & joint pain
  • Bone loss & osteoporosis
  • Malnutrition
  • Missed menstrual periods & infertility
  • Numbness of the hands and feet
  • Seizures & migraines

Symptoms of celiac disease in children may include:

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Constipation
  • Delayed growth/puberty
  • Diarrhea
  • Lack of muscle coordination
  • Stomach pain after eating
  • Bloating
  • Vomiting/weight loss

Diagnosis

To be tested for celiac disease, you’ll first meet with your doctor for a physical exam. You’ll talk about your symptoms, and then your doctor may order tests, such as:

  • A blood test for celiac disease to check for an immune reaction to gluten
  • An endoscopy to get a tissue sample (biopsy) from your small intestine
  • A capsule endoscopy to get pictures of your digestive tract 

After administering these tests, your doctor should be able to give you a celiac disease diagnosis and let you know if you do, in fact, have the condition. Diagnosing celiac disease is often easier than diagnosing gluten intolerance because there is no diagnostic test for NCGS.

Services & Treatment

If you are diagnosed with this condition, your Aurora Heath Care team will work with you to determine the best celiac disease treatment options for you. Typically, this includes eliminating gluten from your diet.

A dietitian can:

  • Show you how to adopt a healthy gluten-free diet, also known as a celiac disease diet
  • Give tips for avoiding foods containing gluten
  • Prescribe vitamins and supplements to ease your symptoms

Locations

If you think you may be suffering from celiac disease, the gastrointestinal medical team at Aurora Health Care is here to help. We have convenient locations in Milwaukee, Oshkosh, Sheboygan, Green Bay, and throughout eastern Wisconsin.

Use our search to find a location near you or search for a local gastroenterologist who specializes in celiac disease.

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