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What is celiac disease?
3/31/2010 - Christine Traxler

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease in which the lining of the small intestines is attacked by autoantibodies that damage the tissue.  It is caused by eating rye, barley, wheat and oats.  Symptoms may vary from person to person but include pain in the abdomen, bloating, gas and abdominal distention, constipation, nausea and vomiting, fatty stools, unexplained weight loss and diarrhea.  You can also have anemia, bone and joint pain, easy bruising, enamel loss on the teeth, fatigue and depression, among other things. 

The only real treatment for celiac disease is to eat a gluten free diet, which means no wheat, rye, oats or barley.   Some medications have this in their list of ingredients so you need to watch out for this and you need to carefully read labels on food items.  It is diagnosed by doing a biopsy of the small bowel while you’re eating gluten.  It should show damage to the intestinal wall.  Corticosteroids can be used to block the symptoms while you’re working on the gluten free diet.  A registered dietitian can help you learn how to eat better and to avoid symptoms. 

No one knows the exact cause of celiac sprue.  It can happen any time in your life and is hereditary so that if one family member has it, it is likely that other family members can get it, too.  It is most common in Caucasians of European descent.  Women get the disease more commonly than men. 


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