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.
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.
You should seek testing for celiac disease if you:
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.
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:
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.