The symptoms can range from what may seem like insignificant ailments such as headaches, diarrhea, reflux, lactose intolerance, and abdominal pain and bloating to more significant signs of malabsorption, which can manifest itself as weight loss, anemia, assorted autoimmune disorders, depression and malignancies.
The elusive culprit behind these varied discomforts is celiac disease and international studies show that 1 out of 100 people have it. This means that nearly 3 million Americans are affected and sadly only 3% have been diagnosed. Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disease that is triggered by the ingestion of gluten- the protein found naturally in wheat, rye, and barley. Even trace amount of gluten can flatten the villi in the intestines which will then lead to a variety of symptoms and if prolonged serious health complications that may include other autoimmune diseases.
Below is a tiered checklist of symptoms of celiac disease from the comprehensive book Celiac Disease –A Hidden Epidemic. (Peter H.R. Green, MD and Rory Jones 2006: Back cover)
I. Check each symptom you have had at least once a week during the past three months:
- Bloating, gas, and/or stomach cramping
-diarrhea or runny stools
-Joint pain or numbness or tingling in your extremities
-Itchy Skin lesions
-Constant unexplained fatigue
-Frequent headaches or migraines
II. Check if you have had or been diagnosed with any of the following:
-Irritable bowel syndrome
-Eczema or unexplained dermatitis
-Chronic fatigue syndrome
-Nervous stomach (non-ulcer dyspepsia)
III. Check if you have any of the following:
-Osteopenia and/or osteoporosis
-Autoimmune disorders (thyroid disease [hypo/hyper], type 1 diabetes, Sjogren’s syndrome, chronic liver disease) or an immediate family member with an autoimmune condition
-Small intestinal cancer
-Psychiatric disorders or depression
-Anemia (iron deficiency)
Checking one or more lines in section I and II and having any of the illnesses listed in section III warrants a personal and medical investigation to rule out or confirm celiac disease.
A PROPER DIAGNOSIS
Before you try to alleviate any of the above symptoms by trying out a gluten-free diet, it is important for you to get a professional diagnosis of celiac disease. Prematurely trying a gluten-free diet before getting tested for antibodies to gluten will skew your test results. It is important to get tested while you have been eating gluten in order to have accurate tests. Antibody tests will be followed up by an endoscopy and biopsy, which is considered the gold standard for a diagnosis of celiac disease within the medical community. If you have a negative antibody test, but suspicion of celiac disease is still high, a biopsy may still be performed.
In the recent past the American medical community has lagged behind many other countries in regards to understanding that celiac disease is not as rare of a disease as once taught in medical schools. Fortunately, and most likely due to the efforts of the press and the high profile work of foreign medical pioneers, such as Dr. Peter Green of the Celiac Disease Center At Columbia University and Dr. Alessi Fasano of the University Of Maryland Center For Celiac Research, the mysterious symptoms of celiac disease are finally becoming more recognizable to physicians within the United States. Be sure to find a gastroenterologist that is familiar with celiac disease and has actually diagnosed the proper ratio of patients with celiac disease.
There is no cure for celiac disease. The good news is that it can be treated with a gluten-free diet and the health of most patients will be restored once they completely eliminate gluten from their diet.