Do You Have a Gluten Problem?
What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac Disease (also known as Celiac Sprue) is an immune reaction to eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. For individuals with Celiac Disease, ingestion of the gluten causes damage to the small intestine, which is where the body absorbs a lot of its nutrients.
What are the Symptoms?
Symptoms of Celiac Disease include diarrhea, abdominal pain, weight loss, gas and bloating. If a patient has mal-absorption, he/she may be deficient in certain vitamins such as B12 or fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K).
How is a Diagnosis Made?
A blood test is a non-invasive screening tool to diagnose Celiac Disease, but the definitive diagnosis is made by a small bowel biopsy. This is accomplished by performing an upper endoscopy, or EGD, in which a gastroenterologist uses a camera to look at the intestines, while the patient is sedated. A biopsy of the small intestine will confirm the diagnosis.
What is the Treatment?
Celiac Disease is usually treated by not ingesting of any food or substances that contain gluten. Once this happens, the symptoms will usually improve within a few weeks to a few months, depending on the severity of those symptoms. In some rare cases, if the symptoms do not improve by dietary modification, the doctor may need to prescribe an immunosuppressive medication.
Treatment is important because Celiac Disease can lead to long-term problems. These include osteoporosis, joint problems and electrolyte and vitamin deficiencies. There is even a small risk of cancer associated with this disease.
What is Gluten Sensitivity?
Not everyone who has problems with gluten has Celiac Disease. There is a condition known as gluten intolerance or sensitivity, which is distinct from Celiac. These patients can have similar symptoms, but test negative for Celiac Disease. Gluten sensitivity can cause gas, bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea and other similar symptoms, but does not include the long- term risks associated Celiac Disease.
Treatment for gluten sensitivity is the same as for Celiac Disease: the avoidance of gluten. Unfortunately, there is no test to prove that a patient has gluten sensitivity. The diagnosis is made based on medical history and ruling out true Celiac Disease.