You’ve probably heard of a condition called celiac disease, which makes people get sick after eating gluten. But have you ever wondered what the causes and signs of celiac disease are, and whether there are other gluten-related disorders out there?
Keep reading this article to learn everything you need to know about celiac disease, its symptoms, and causes.
What is celiac disease?
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that affects people who have a genetic predisposition for the condition. Celiac disease causes people to become gluten sensitive, and their immune system attacks their own body after eating gluten. Gluten is a protein that can be found in wheat, rye, and barley.
According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, this disease has been estimated to affect approximately 1 out of every 100 people in the world. Unfortunately, only around 30% of patients with celiac disease will receive a correct diagnosis, which means that millions of people probably live with undiagnosed celiac disease their entire lives.
Celiac disease shouldn’t be confused with other gluten-related problems. According to the Gluten Intolerance Group, you could have other disorders that can lead to varying symptoms, including:
- Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NGCS): this condition is also known as gluten sensitivity (GS) or non-celiac wheat sensitivity (NCWS), but it hasn’t been defined clearly yet. People with gluten sensitivity have symptoms after eating gluten, but they don’t have celiac disease or wheat allergy.
- Wheat allergy: this may sound similar to celiac disease, but it’s a different condition. Wheat allergy happens when your body produces antibodies in response to gluten intake, similarly to a peanut or shellfish allergy. People with wheat allergy typically tolerate other sources of gluten that don’t contain any wheat.
What triggers celiac disease?
The exact cause of celiac disease isn’t fully understood. But according to the Mayo Clinic, this condition is thought to be the result of a combination of genetic inheritance and other factors, which could include:
- Infant-feeding practices
- Gut bacteria
- Infections of the gastrointestinal tract
In some cases, celiac disease occurs after pregnancy, childbirth, intense stress, or even after a viral infection.
Types of celiac disease
Not all cases of celiac disease are the same, and there are several different types of celiac disorder, including:
- Classic celiac disease: this is the most common type of celiac disorder, and symptoms typically start early on in life.
- Non-classic celiac disease: patients with non-classic celiac disease may have mild intestinal symptoms, but without signs of malabsorption.
- Silent celiac disease: also known as subclinical celiac disease, this type of celiac doesn’t cause any severe symptoms. However, many patients still feel better after switching to a gluten-free diet.
- Potential celiac disease: this type of celiac disease happens when an intestinal biopsy is inconclusive, but the patient has antibodies associated with celiac disease in their blood.
- Refractory celiac disease: this is a severe form of celiac disorder in which patients don’t respond to a gluten-free diet. This variation of the disease is very rare.
Celiac disease risk factors
Anyone can have celiac disease, but there are certain risk factors that increase your likelihood of having the disorder. According to a study published in the Italian Journal of Pediatrics, these risk factors include:
- Genetic predisposition
- Timing of gluten introduction to the diet as a child
- Family history of celiac disease or dermatitis herpetiforme
- Type 1 diabetes
- Autoimmune thyroid disease
- Down syndrome
- Addison’s disease
What are the symptoms of celiac disease?
Celiac disease can cause symptoms that range in severity. According to the NHS, the checklist of celiac disease symptoms can include:
- Diarrhea with an unpleasant smell
- Stomach ache
- Muscle cramps
- Unintentional weight loss
- Abnormalities in dental enamel
- Dermatitis herpetiforme, which is an itchy skin rash
- Nerve damage or neuropathy
- Tingling sensations in your limbs
- Coordination and speech alterations
- Failure to thrive and delayed growth in children
Symptoms of celiac disease in men
Men are less likely to be diagnosed with celiac disease. The diagnosis can be delayed since many healthcare providers don’t associate men with a high risk of celiac disease. Men with celiac disease are more likely to develop liver dysfunction, weight loss, and other autoimmune diseases.
Symptoms of celiac disease in women
In addition to the signs listed above, celiac disease in women can cause fertility problems, menstrual cycle alterations, pregnancy complications, anemia, and an increased risk of stillbirth, miscarriage, and other reproductive complications.
Weight loss and celiac disease
Unexplained weight loss is a common symptom of celiac disease. You can experience sharp weight loss combined with difficulty in gaining the weight back.
Celiac disease occurs in the intestinal villi. The immune reaction triggered after eating gluten causes damage to the intestinal villi, which are tiny projections that line the intestines. These structures absorb nutrients from the foods you eat. When intestinal villi become damaged, you can lose the ability to absorb nutrients properly.
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What is Celiac Disease? - celiac.org
Celiac Disease, Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity or Wheat Allergy: What is the Difference? - gluten.org
Celiac disease - mayoclinic.org
Risk factors for celiac disease - ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
Coeliac disease - nhs.uk