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Celiac disease is a digestive disease (Read about "Digestive System") that damages the small intestine and interferes with the absorption of nutrients from food. People who have celiac disease cannot tolerate a protein called gluten, which is found in wheat, rye and barley. Gluten is also found in some non-food products, such as medicines and vitamins. (Read about "Vitamins & Minerals")
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) says celiac disease - also known as celiac sprue - affects children and adults. Until recently, celiac disease was thought to be uncommon in the United States. However, studies have shown that celiac disease is very common. Recent findings estimate that over 2 million people in the United States have celiac disease, according to NIDDK. Among people who have a first-degree relative diagnosed with celiac disease, as many as 1 in 20 people may have the disease.
Most often, celiac disease first causes symptoms during childhood, usually diarrhea, growth failure and failure to thrive. (Read about "Childhood Weight Issues") But the disease can also first cause symptoms in adults. These symptoms may be vague and therefore attributed to other conditions. Symptoms can include:
Celiac disease may cause nonspecific symptoms for several years before being correctly diagnosed and treated.
NIDDK says that when people with celiac disease eat foods or use products containing gluten, their immune system responds by damaging the small intestine. (Read about "The Immune System") Therefore, people with celiac disease should not eat any foods containing gluten, a protein in wheat, rye and barley. Otherwise, destruction of the lining of the small intestine will interfere with their absorption of nutrients. The damage can occur from even a small amount of gluten, and it occurs, even if you don't have symptoms.
Screening for celiac disease can involve blood tests, to check for certain autoantibodies. (Read about "Laboratory Testing") A doctor may also use an endoscope to obtain a sample of tissue from the small intestine for biopsy. (Read about "Endoscopy" "Biopsy")
If celiac disease is present, the only treatment for it is to follow a gluten-free diet. If you have celiac disease, your doctor can have you work with a dietitian on a gluten-free diet plan. A dietitian is a health care professional who specializes in food and nutrition. You will need to read ingredient lists and food labels carefully. (Read about "Food Labels") You must also learn to identify foods that contain gluten in order to make informed decisions at the grocery store and when eating out.
All Concept Communications material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.
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