Celiac disease (CD), also known as celiac sprue or gluten-sensitive enteropathy, is a genetically linked autoimmune disorder that can affect both children and adults. When people with celiac disease eat certain grain-based products that contain gluten, it sets off an immune response that causes damage to the small intestine. This, in turn, interferes with the small intestine’s ability to absorb nutrients found in food, leading to malnutrition and a variety of other complications.
“Gluten” is the collective term for the amino acid sequences found in wheat, barley, rye and, to a lesser extent, oats, that trigger the immune response.
Celiac disease is the most common genetic autoimmune disease in the world. This makes celiac disease more common than lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, Crohn’s disease or cystic fibrosis. Celiac disease is estimated to affect at least 1% of the worldwide population. Over 3,000,000 people in the US may have celiac disease, but only 150,000 have been diagnosed.
The elapsed time from onset of symptoms to celiac disease diagnosis averages 10 years in the US. The Canadian Celiac Health Survey published in 2007 reported the mean delay in diagnosis was 11.7 years.
Over 300 signs, symptoms, associated disorders and complications may result from celiac disease. Some common health problems include:
At this time, the only treatment for celiac disease is the commitment to a strict gluten-free lifestyle. This involves removing all wheat, barley, rye, and common oats from the diet. Successful treatment requires both patient education and medical follow-up.
Prompt diagnosis is imperative for the best health outcome. Damage from gluten is cumulative. The earlier gluten is removed from the diet, the less likely health complications will develop. The body quickly returns to health, in most cases, after initiating a strict gluten-free diet. There is no cure for celiac disease. The glutenfree diet must be maintained for life to achieve optimal health.
Center for Disease Control
Peter H. R. Green et al. “Economic Benefits of Increased Diagnosis of Celiac Disease in a National Managed Care Population in the United States.” J Insur Med 40 (2008): 218–228.
Cranney A, et al. “The Canadian Celiac Health Survey.” Dig Dis Sci. 52.4 (2007): 1087-95.
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