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Left Untreated, Celiac Disease Can Lead to Serious Health Complications

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Left Untreated, Celiac Disease Can Lead to Serious Health Complications

Aug 11, 2022

More than 80% of Americans with celiac disease don't know they have it. Not only may these people needlessly be suffering troubling symptoms from abdominal pain to headaches. But they also may be at risk for developing other serious and long-term health conditions, including: heart disease, infertility, anemia, osteoporosis, and malnutrition.

At Carolina Digestive Health Associates, PA, with offices throughout the Belmont and Charlotte areas of North Carolina, our gastroenterology specialists are experts in diagnosing and managing celiac disease. Here they explain what you need to know about this chronic digestive disorder and the importance of getting a diagnosis early.

Understanding celiac disease

Celiac disease is a chronic digestive and autoimmune disorder triggered by eating foods that contain gluten. Gluten is a protein found naturally in many grains, such as wheat, barley, and rye. 

When people with celiac disease eat gluten — even a tiny amount —  their body mounts an abnormal immune response that attacks the small intestine. 

Some people with celiac disease have major gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain. Others have radically different symptoms, such as fatigue, depression, and neurological issues. Still others are entirely asymptomatic. This is called “silent celiac disease” or “asymptomatic celiac disease.”

However, even those without symptoms can suffer intestinal damage.

Whether you have silent or symptomatic celiac disease, intestinal damage prevents the absorption of vital nutrients over time. 

Who should be tested for celiac disease?

You should seek testing for celiac disease if you:

  • Have a first-degree relative with celiac disease. Anyone with a parent, sibling, or child with celiac disease has a 1 in 10 chance of developing it too.
  • Have an associated autoimmune disorder, such as: type 1 diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), autoimmune thyroid disease, or autoimmune liver disease.
  • Have unexplained diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, bloating, gas, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, or constipation.

How is celiac disease diagnosed?

The first step is a blood test to check for specific antibodies associated with the condition. If your blood test indicates celiac disease, your physician will order an endoscopy and biopsy.

This test involves a long tube with a tiny camera that is put into your mouth and passed down your throat (upper endoscopy). The camera lets your physician see your small intestine and take a small tissue sample (biopsy) to analyze.

Early diagnosis is crucial because, left untreated, celiac disease can result in other significant health complications.

What are the risks of untreated celiac disease?

When your small intestine is damaged, it can’t absorb essential vitamins and minerals. These deficiencies can lead to additional severe and chronic health problems. Some of the most common are:

  • Malnutrition
  • Iron-deficiency anemia
  • Osteoporosis 
  • Infertility
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Certain cancers
  • Nervous system problems
  • Heart disease

If you suspect you may have celiac disease, schedule an appointment online or over the phone at the Carolina Digestive Health Associates office nearest you.