What if you lived with a disease you never knew you had? Surprisingly, it happens to millions of Americans every year. In fact, 83% of the 3 million Americans living with celiac disease will go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed throughout their lifetime. Many patients have lived with celiac symptoms for so long that they assume it is “normal” and don’t seek medical help. Others are incorrectly diagnosed with things like Irritable Bowel Syndrome or other GI disorders. Since September 14 is National Celiac Awareness Day, we wanted to take a minute to give our patients and community members some valuable information about this disease.
Celiac Disease is a genetic disorder that is passed from parent to child through DNA. Sometimes the disease lies hidden for years and is brought on suddenly by stressful events such as pregnancy, surgery, infection or emotional distress. It is an autoimmune disorder that is triggered by consuming a protein called gluten. Gluten is found in wheat, barley or rye. A person that suffers from celiac disease is unable to absorb nutrients from food properly which causes damage to the part of the small intestine called the villi. The damaged villi make it impossible for nutrients to be absorbed into the bloodstream which leads to malnourishment and a long list of other complications. It can lead to some cancers, thyroid disease, osteoporosis, infertility and other autoimmune diseases. There is no “cure” for celiac disease, but it can be controlled through proper diet.
The symptoms of celiac disease, while very apparent, are often dismissed as normal. Many patients report suffering from symptoms for years before realizing that something could be medically wrong. It is extremely important to talk to you doctor if you have been experiencing any of these symptoms.
|Delayed Growth||Depression||Dermatitis Herpetiformis|
|Diarrhea||Dental Enamel Defects||Fatigue|
|Excessive Gas||Unexplained Infertility||Joint Pain|
|Pale Sores in Mouth||Migraines||Nausea|
|Numbness in Legs||Weightloss|
If you suspect you may have celiac disease, you should set up an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible to go over your symptoms. Getting a diagnosis can be difficult because of the wide variety of symptoms. There is a simple antibody blood test, as well as a genetic test, usually done with a cheek swab of saliva, that will indicate if you have one of the two celiac genes present. If there is still suspicion of celiac, your doctor may order a biopsy of the small intestine for full confirmation. The biopsy is typically a simple outpatient procedure using an endoscope.
The only form of treatment available is to follow a gluten-free diet. This can be extremely overwhelming at first. Gluten is hidden in many foods so reading labels will become important while shopping for food and you will have to ask questions while eating out. Eating ANY amount of gluten, even a trace, can damage the villi and cause an onset of symptoms. Cross contamination in restaurants and at home should be avoided.
Luckily, gluten-free living has gotten easier over the last decade as awareness of celiac disease has increased. There are countless resources online with recipes and even restaurants that offer a gluten-free menu.
As always, your team of doctors at Physicians East are always here to offer support. Always be sure to communicate your needs to your provider and ask for help when needed. Most patients find that they learn to adapt recipes and food choices as they go and that management of the disease becomes second-nature over time.
To schedule an appointment with one of our specialists at Physicians East, please call 252-413-6260 or schedule an appointment online today.