What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that can occur in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. It is estimated to affect 1 in 100 people worldwide. Two and one-half million Americans are undiagnosed and are at risk for long-term health complications.
When people with celiac disease eat gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye and barley), their body mounts an immune response that attacks the small intestine. These attacks lead to damage on the villi, small fingerlike projections that line the small intestine, that promote nutrient absorption. When the villi get damaged, nutrients cannot be absorbed properly into the body.
Celiac disease is hereditary, meaning that it runs in families. People with a first-degree relative with celiac disease (parent, child, sibling) have a 1 in 10 risk of developing celiac disease.
What are the symptoms of Celiacs Disease?
Right now studies have discovered 300 known symptoms which may occur in the digestive system or other parts of the body. But what is really scary is some people with celiac disease don’t have any symptoms at all.
The most common symptoms are digestive symptoms, which are more common in young kids although some adults do experience these as well. Some examples are: Abdominal pain, chromic diarrhea, vomiting, constipation, pale foul-smelling or fatty stool, etc.
In adults, the most common symptoms include: unexplained iron-deficiency anemia, fatigue, bone or joint pain, arthritis, bone loss or osteoporosis, depression or anxiety, tingling numbness in the hands and feet, seizures or migraines, missed menstrual periods, infertility or recurrent miscarriage, canker sores inside the mouth, an itchy skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis, etc.
Diagnosis and Treatment
There are several blood tests available that screen for celiac disease antibodies. But for this screening to work, you must be eating gluten. Again, you must NOT be on a gluten-free diet.
If test results come back suggesting you might have celiac disease, your physician will recommend a biopsy of your small intestine to confirm the diagnosis.
Celiac disease is a chronic autoimmune disease, which means that you cannot “grow out” of it. The treatment for both celiac disease and gluten sensitivity is lifelong adherence to a strict gluten-free diet
Growing up, I have always struggled with canker sores. And my stomach has always bothered me. I hated when doctors would push on my stomach because it always hurt. I grew up thinking your stomach was supposed to always hurt. That was my norm, constantly living with mild pain. But it wasn’t until late 2010 and early 2011 that my real symptoms started to show up.
It started with what I thought was weight gain but really it was my body swelling from everything I was eating. During the week, I normally ate soups and salads for lunch and eggs for breakfast. But on the weekends, I would splurge with pizza, pasta, beer.. you name it. And soon, every weekend I would spend 9+ hours in the bathroom throwing up and in the worst pain of my entire life. Then I would spend a couple more hours in the emergency room because I couldn’t stop vomiting. I would be shaking uncontrollably from the pain. The lightest touch of clothing or sheets would be painful.
Once I had an emergency doctor tell me I was an alcoholic who needed help. But the thing was, I would only have one or two beers and that would be enough to set me off. Finally, at the beginning of 2011, I found an amazing doctor who helped me get diagnosed with Celiacs. I remember my doctor telling me I can to cut out all gluten from my diet. And believe it or not, I cried. I was a carb loving fool at the time and giving up my pasta and breads seemed unfair. When I told my doctor this, he looked at me and pretty much told me to suck it up and I would no longer be a carb person.
Fast forward five years later and some days I still struggle with a gluten free diet. And although my symptoms aren’t bad enough to send me to the ER anymore, they are still bad. When I eat gluten, not only is my body destroyed but so is my mind. And it doesn’t fix itself right away. I have to live with what feels like half of who I am for weeks until my body finally rights itself.
When I eat gluten, I have the digestive symptoms and the horrible pain. That pain usually lasts for about three to five days. But the mind fog is what lasts for weeks. It’s hard to describe but it’s like listening to a conversation but only hearing part of it. Then trying to make sense of what you heard and respond. But you can’t find the words you want and everything is out of range. Your mind is like walking through molasses. You can’t remember anything and you often have to ask the same questions over and over because sometimes you don’t even remember asking them but most of the time you just don’t remember in general.
It’s kind of scary. But what’s really scary is having to take care of my two boys with symptoms. If they are bad enough, I fear I will forget something important and my kids might get hurt. What is also scary is knowing each time I get sick, I might be that much closer to getting colon cancer or developing some other disease.
Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Do you have celiac disease or know someone who does?
Later this week I will write a post about what foods I eat, some of my favorite gluten free recipes, and whatnot.