Thursday, October 05, 2006

Checking for Celiac Disease

By Brandi M. Seals

Celiac disease is a serious condition that often goes undiagnosed, yet can seriously affect the health of your child. It is imperative that parents look for signs of celiac disease and notify their pediatrician immediately.

Celiac disease is not a simple food allergy. It is a genetically inheritable disease that causes damage to the mucosal lining in the small intestine. The damage often results in the malabsorption of nutrients and leads to malnutrition despite eating a healthy diet. While the trait for celiac disease is present at birth, it may become active at any age.

Approximately 1 in 133 people have celiac disease yet only around 3% of them have been diagnosed.

Celiac disease is caused by sensitivity to gluten. Gluten is a term for the storage proteins found in many grains. The proteins vary by grain, for example it is the hordein in barley and avenin in oats. Each is slightly different, but the term gluten refers to all of these proteins.

Damage to the small intestine in those with celiac disease is slow to develop but it is generally caused by an immune system reaction. In most cases the damage caused before diagnosis is reversible and normal bowel function can commence.

The potential to develop celiac disease is present from birth onward though its onset can occur at any age. No one really knows what causes the celiac disease to become active, but we do know that three things are required for a person to develop celiac disease:

1.) A genetic disposition
2.) A trigger
3.) A diet containing wheat, barley, rice and oats

No one really knows what triggers may cause the onset of the disease, but some possibilities include: puberty, pregnancy, surgery, increase consumption of wheat, barley, rice and oats or having an inappropriate immune system response to an infection.

It is interesting to note that more women are diagnosed with celiac disease than men.

Celiac disease is life-long condition that currently can only be treated by is a strict gluten-free lifestyle.

There are no set symptoms for celiac disease. They vary widely among patients, and some do not experience any symptoms at all. The severity and type of symptoms are based largely on the amount of damage that has been done to the intestine and the length of time nutrients have not been absorbed correctly.

Symptoms that some patients experience include:
Abdominal cramping/bloating
Abdominal distention
Passing gas
Gluten ataxia
Mouth sores or cracks in the corners
Back pain and muscle cramps
Constipation
Night blindness
Decreased ability to clot blood
Dry Skin
Diarrhea
Tooth enamel defects
Dehydration

If you suspect your child may have celiac disease because of symptoms or because you or your spouse has it, contact your pediatrician for a diagnosis.

It is not surprising that those with sensitivities to gluten may also have other sensitivities. Those with celiac disease often also experience problems with lactose intolerance, mold, and food allergies.

Those with celiac disease that go untreated are likely to develop associated immune-related conditions. There is an association between celiac disease and diabetes and thyroid disease. Occasionally those with celiac disease were also found to have spleen problems and some neurological disorders. Most often, untreated celiac disease results in anemia, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis.

If your child is diagnosed with celiac disease, he or she will need to start living a gluten free lifestyle. There is no medication or surgery that will cure celiac disease. A radical diet change is the only way to go.

You may be surprised to find all the foods gluten is in. Gluten can be found in breads, cookies, pastas and any other grain product. Gluten is also found it more unusual places like soy sauce and French fries.

To practice a gluten-free lifestyle it is imperative that you and your child learn to read food labels. Contact the Celiac Sprue Organization (www.csaceliacs.org) for information on reading labels, living with celiac disease and even several gluten-free recipes.

The good news is that there are hundreds of naturally gluten-free foods available. And, in recent years there has been more of an effort to create gluten-free pastas and other foods that would have previously been off limits. They are made from gluten-free grains and are now available at most grocery stores.

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