Celiac disease is perhaps the most common misdiagnosed condition on the face of the Earth and if you’ve done the research and read the accounts of those finally diagnosed, that will come as no surprise.
Celiac disease is a common digestive condition in which the small intestine becomes inflamed and unable to absorb nutrients due to a gluten hypersensitivity. It’s an uncomfortable condition with numerous side effects and symptoms that can make day-to-day living difficult.
The main problem with celiac disease, and why doctors and GPs are perhaps hesitant to diagnose, is the lack of treatment and medication available. As there are no pills to prescribe, there’s no profit for big pharmaceutical companies so there’s no incentive for development, and sadly, diagnosis.
There’s plenty of accounts littered around the web of those suffering from the disease and their experiences with a prolonged diagnosis. As there’s limited public awareness, patients are often entered into the system and bounced around with incorrect or ill-informed diagnosis with some advised to pursue psychological help for a physical condition…
But don’t worry – you’re not crazy. You may actually have celiac disease.
What causes celiac disease
Celiac disease is actually an autoimmune condition in which the body’s defense system against infection (the immune system) mistakenly attacks and fends off healthy tissue.
In celiac disease, this attacking of healthy tissue comes from the substances inside gluten as found in the lower intestine. This not only causes discomfort but causes damage to the surface of the small intestine and disrupts its ability to absorb nutrients from food.
Although it’s not clear what causes the immune system to behave in such a way, it is thought that a combination of genetics and environmental factors appear to crossover to cause the condition.
Symptoms of celiac disease
Celiac disease comes with a long list of potential symptoms, giving second reasoning to the number of misdiagnoses of the condition.
However, following the consumption of gluten, any number of the following gut-related symptoms could be a sign of the condition:
- Abdominal pain
- Bloating and flatulence
Similarly, there’s also a number of general symptoms that may come as a result of celiac disease:
- Unexpected weight loss
- Dermatitis herpetiformis (An itchy rash)
- Problems with getting pregnant
- Nerve damage (peripheral neuropathy)
- Coordination disorders affecting balance and speech (ataxia)
Treatment of celiac disease
Unfortunately, as of current, there is no cure for celiac disease as well as a lack of treatment in medication form.
However, as celiac disease is triggered by the consumption of gluten, it is advised to switch to a gluten-free diet to help control the symptoms and prevent any long-term consequences immediately.
A gluten-free diet can be enjoyed with a variety of foods including meat, fish, fruits and vegetables, rice, potatoes and lentils – so there’s plenty to choose from to build a nutritious healthy diet.
However, with celiac disease, it’s important to avoid bread, pasta, cereals, biscuits or crackers, cakes, pastries and pies, among others. Looking for special free-from food sources is a great way to ensure a safe diet to prevent any long-term consequences that the condition can lead to.
Complications of continued gluten consumption
It’s important to adopt a gluten-free lifestyle regardless of either non-existent or mild symptoms due to serious complications that prolonged consumption may have with damage caused to the lower intestine.
There’s a number of complications from the continued gluten consumption ranging in severity:
- Osteoporosis (weakening of the bones)
- Iron deficiency anaemia
- Vitamin B12 and folate deficiency anemia
There are several other less common, more serious complications that can be witnessed with the continued gluten consumption including those affecting pregnancy such as the birth of a low-birthweight baby and some types of cancers including bowel cancer.
Who’s affected by the condition
Celiac disease is one of the most surprisingly common conditions with an estimated 3 million people (or 1 in 133).
The odds of the development of the disease dramatically increase when risk factors are slowly considered with patients with first degree relatives (1 in 22), people with second-degree relatives (1 in 39) and in those with related symptoms (1 in 56). Regardless of this, it’s reported that cases of celiac disease are between 2 to 3 times higher in women than men.
However, some experts believe these numbers to be an underestimate due to milder cases going undiagnosed or misdiagnosed as other digestive conditions e.g. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
Symptoms of the condition can develop at any age although are most common during early childhood, between 8 and 12 months old, although the 4 year average of diagnosis still holds true. In later adulthood, development of the disease is most common between 40 and 60 years old, although can develop at any age.
Diagnosing celiac disease
If you believe that you may have or are at high risk of celiac disease (a family history of the condition) it’s important to get testing and diagnosed as quickly as possible.
This can be done in a number of ways with the most common with requesting from a GP or doctor. However, December 2018 saw the introduction of the most comprehensive at-home test for celiac disease screening from imaware™.
With over 3 million Americans currently affected by the disease and 60% of those remaining undiagnosed, it’s the imaware™ mission to empower patients with the ability to accurately screen for diseases from the comfort of their own home.
With a current average of over 4 years from the initial symptom recognization to diagnosis, it’s thought that with the convenient testing and raised awareness, this time can be dramatically reduced.
You’re not crazy. You may actually have celiac disease!
Help and support
With a condition that requires such extensive lifestyle and dietary changes, it can be difficult to adjust and rework to avoid gluten.
If you need any help, support or assistance – visit the National Celiac Association for a great source of advice, information and events throughout the US.
You can also use the toll-free helpline 1-888-4-CELIAC.