Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disorder. If you have celiac disease, it means that eating gluten may lead to damage in the small intestine, digestive issues and many more negative side effects.
Let's talk about some of the most important things you need to know about celiac disease.
What is celiac disease?
Celiac disease is a serious autoimmune disorder that occurs in genetically predisposed people.
In simpler terms, celiac disease is defined as moderate to severe discomfort following the consumption of gluten-containing foods. The only way to find out if you have celiac disease is to take a celiac disease blood test.
Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat, rye and barley. If you are living with celiac disease, your body's immune system will reject the protein in the food you eat.
If you have celiac disease and eat gluten, the villi (hair like projections that line your intestines) will be damaged.
Villi are responsible for absorbing nutrients when you consume food. When the villi get damaged, nutrients cannot be absorbed properly into the body.
Damaged villi puts the small intestine under attack and leads a wide range of signs and symptoms associated with celiac disease.
This diagram shows the difference between those who suffer from celiac disease and those who do not.
On the left, you see what villi and epithelial cells look like in those who have a healthy small intestine. The structures are rounded and fit for purpose in enabling healthy digestion.
On the right, you see what damaged villi and epithelial cells look like. As the structures are flattened, they are less able to carry out their role in digestive function. This creates a negative domino effect for other physiological functions, including reproduction. (Read: Does celiac disease cause infertility?)
A wheat allergy differs from celiac disease. Those who are intolerant to gluten will experience similar symptoms to those with celiac disease, however, there is no autoimmune response and the lining of the intestine will not be damaged to the same degree.
Here are the 4 things you may not have known about celiac disease until today:
Celiac disease is hereditary
Celiac disease is genetic, meaning that if you have a close relative who lives with celiac disease, you are more likely to live with celiac disease.
People with a first-degree relative (a parent, sibling or child) with celiac disease have a 1 in 10 risk of developing celiac disease according to The Celiac Disease Foundation.
Celiac disease can affect you at any age
Celiac disease can affect you at any age. Celiac disease is most commonly diagnosed in people aged 40-60 years old. The average time it takes to be diagnosed with celiac disease is 13 years according to a NCBI study.
Celiac disease can lead to different autoimmune conditions
Those who live with celiac disease are more likely to suffer from other autoimmune disorders such as anemia, osteoporosis, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis (MS), dermatitis herpetiformis (an itchy skin rash) and in some severe cases, infertility.
Celiac disease comes in different forms
There are different types of celiac disease. Often they are broken into three groups labelled classical celiac disease, non-classical celiac disease and silent celiac disease. We will speak about these different types of celiac disease later in the article.
What are the different types of celiac disease?
There are 3 common types of celiac disease:
- Classical celiac disease
- Non-classical celiac disease
- Silent celiac disease
Each type of celiac disease has similar symptoms, though the symptoms can range in severity.
Classical celiac disease
In cases of classical celiac disease, early warning signs may include digestion issues, diarrhea, unexplained weight loss and stunted growth in children. For those who are suffering from classical celiac disease but continue to consume gluten, there is a higher likelihood that sufferers will produce pale, strong smelling and fatty stools. This condition is known as steatorrhea
Non-classical celiac disease
In cases of non-classical celiac disease, early warning signs may include abdominal bloating and cramping, chronic fatigue, severe headaches, tingling in the hands or feet, anemia, reduced bone mass, dental issues, depression, anxiety, itchy skin and rashes on the body.
Note: The difference between classical and non-classical celiac disease is that those who are living with classical celiac disease are experiencing symptoms of malabsorption whereas those who are living with non-classical celiac disease may not experience tell-tale symptoms of malabsorption.
Silent celiac disease
Silent celiac disease is often so called because patients will not experience any symptoms associated with celiac disease. You might wonder how someone can still have celiac disease but not experience symptoms when they ingest gluten. It has been proven that those who are living with silent celiac disease will experience villous atrophy damage to their small intestine, but can live their life feeling totally fine.
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Written by Hannah Kingston | Medically approved by Dr. Dominic Rowley