With more than 200 million Americans undiagnosed for celiac disease, the risks for long-term health complications are high. The reason is that celiac disease presents around 200 symptoms and not everyone who has the disease reacts to it the same way. No wonder there is confusion about what it is and how it occurs. The physicians at Needham Gastroenterology Associates are committed to helping patients figure out the real cause of their gastrointestinal pain and providing appropriate treatment options once a diagnosis is determined.

How Celiac Disease Affects the Body

Celiac disease is one of several autoimmune diseases that mistakenly attacks the body’s own immune system. Instead of protecting our cells from foreign antibodies, celiac disease attacks the villi–the small, finger-like tubes that line the small intestine–and destroys their ability to absorb nutrients from food. When this condition persists and no diagnosis is given, patients experience the painful results of being deprived of essential nutrition throughout their system.

Extended deprivation caused by the small intestine’s inability to absorb nutrients can wreak havoc on a patient’s overall health. Symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, weakness, anemia, constipation, fatigue, infertility, bone or joint pain, and arthritis are just some of the ways celiac disease can impact a person’s body. Because celiac is an autoimmune disease, it can lead to the development of other autoimmune disorders, such as diabetes and MS.

Stop Guessing and Get Help

Another aspect of celiac disease is that it is hereditary, and can be passed from parent to child through the generations. If you have a first-degree relative–mother, sibling, child–who has been diagnosed with celiac disease, there’s a strong likelihood that you may also be suffering from the disease, even if no symptoms are present. The disease can strike at any age, affecting children as well as adults, and when one family member is diagnosed, there is a 1 in 10 chance that a close relative will also have celiac disease. Your best option in this case is to consult with a health professional and undergo the recommended tests to verify the disease.

Screening for celiac disease usually takes place in the physician’s office, and consists of a blood test for celiac antibodies. This is the first step in determining whether you actually have celiac disease. You must take care not to be consuming gluten-free foods, as they will result in a normal screening. Continue to follow your usual diet and avoid self-treatment, as this could interfere with the testing process.

If the blood test results indicate celiac disease, your physician will recommend a biopsy of your small intestine to confirm the diagnosis. An endoscopy performed by a gastroenterologist at Needham Gastroenterology Associates is an outpatient procedure that removes a tiny sample of the small intestine, which is then analyzed to see if there is any damage consistent with celiac disease. When the disease is determined to have caused damage to the small intestine, you will need to follow a strict, gluten-free diet. The gluten protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and sometimes oats is the primary culprit. It triggers a person’s immune system to attack his or her own small intestine.

The appearance of celiac disease continues to be a medical mystery, although one person in every hundred is at risk. For people with celiac disease, the likelihood of developing another autoimmune disorder becomes greater with age, so it behooves a patient who thinks he or she may be suffering from celiac to seek medical attention sooner rather than later. Make an appointment today with Needham Gastroenterology Associates so we can help you manage the disease and avoid future health complications.