One out of every 133 Americans has celiac disease, for a total of over 3 million. With numbers on the rise, it’s obvious why restaurants, grocery stores and cafeterias have begun to take the issue of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity seriously.
Celiac disease results from a hypersensitivity to gluten, a protein found in breads, pastas, cookies and other foods that contain wheat, barley or rye. It is not a food allergy; it is an autoimmune disease that people do not outgrow.
Celiac disease can develop at any time or age, but most people have had it for many years before they are diagnosed. Delaying a diagnosis can often cause further problems, including malnutrition, anemia, and osteoporosis or osteopenia, which is why it’s important to know which symptoms might suggest a diagnosis of celiac disease. These include:
- Recurring abdominal pain
- Weight loss
- Chronic diarrhea/constipation
- Short height
- Joint pain
- Iron deficiency
Testing for Celiac Disease
If you’re suffering from a combination of any of these symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor or gastroenterologist, who can determine whether or not you are suffering from celiac disease. When making the appointment, be aware of any pre-appointment restrictions, but don’t make any immediate changes to your diet.
“Some people will stop eating gluten foods prior to an appointment because they see it as being proactive,” says Keith Laskin, MD, medical director of the Celiac Center at Paoli Hospital. “However, this can interfere with the accuracy of diagnostic tests, so always make sure to get tested before eliminating gluten from your diet.”
During your visit, your doctor will test blood for high levels of anti-tissue transglutaminase antibodies (tTGA) or anti-endomysium antibodies (EMA). If blood tests and symptoms are suggestive of celiac disease, a biopsy of the small intestine is performed to confirm the diagnosis. The biopsy is the most accurate test to detect celiac disease, and is performed by inserting a thin, flexible tube called an endoscope through the mouth and into the first part of the small intestine.
If You are Diagnosed with Celiac Disease…
If you are determined to have celiac disease, your doctor will discuss next steps with you, which typically include scheduling an appointment with a dietitian to discuss gluten-free dining.
“A dietitian can help patients with celiac disease get on the right track to managing a gluten-free diet,” explains Dr. Laskin. Depending on your individual nutritional needs, you may also need vitamins or other supplements to ensure you’re getting the appropriate intake of nutrients. Most people with celiac disease report dramatic improvement within weeks of going gluten-free.
Visit the Frequently Asked Questions section on our website for more information on celiac disease, or call 1.866.CALL.MLH to make an appointment with a doctor who can diagnose celiac disease and help you manage it. If you are diagnosed with celiac disease, the Paoli Hospital Nutrition Center offers nutritional counseling.