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Celiac disease is not just an allergy

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Celiac disease is caused by an adverse reaction to gluten – a component ordinarily found in wheat, rye, oats and barley. This means that sufferers cannot eat common foods such as bread, pasta and cookies.

Although celiac is often defined as a food allergy, it is actually an autoimmune disorder. This means the immune system mistakes gluten as being harmful when it enters the body, attacking it and thereby damaging  the lining of the intestine. This leads to the gut not being able to absorb food properly.

What causes it?

The exact cause for celiac disease is still unknown, although several potential catalysts have been identified over the years, including:

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of celiac usually depend on the extent of intestinal damage and are so varied that it is often difficult to diagnose the condition. Some sufferers even report no symptoms at all.

The Celiac Sprue Association quotes Dr. C Robert Dahl: “Of 100 patients with (celiac disease), just over 10 percent present with classical overt symptoms…About 10 percent are incorrectly diagnosed for some length of time, in some cases years. Forty percent present in an atypical manner, which leads to lengthy delay in diagnosis. About 33 percent of patients have clinically silent disease.“

Celiac sufferers should avoid gluten foods like pasta

Some of the classical overt symptoms include:

These can often be mistaken for various other gastrointestinal problems, such as Crohn’s disease or irritable bowel syndrome, so it is important to consult your doctor in order to get a correct diagnosis.

How is is treated?

The most common treatment for celiac is the complete removal of any foods containing gluten from the diet. This prevents damage to the intestinal lining and any unpleasant symptoms although it may take a couple of years for the digestive system to heal completely.

It is often also advisable to take supplements such as iron and folate. These will help build up the immune system, which is usually weaker in a celiac sufferer, in order to fight future infections.

What happens if celiac is left untreated?

According to the NHS, untreated, celiac can lead to other ailments, such as:

Images: Wikimedia Commons

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