Celiac disease affects around 3 million Americans, many of whom don’t know they have this condition. It can cause a variety of symptoms as well as increase the possibility of long-term health issues, so if you have this disease, it’s important to get a correct diagnosis and begin treatment.
In this blog, Manhattan gastroenterologist Dr. Anthony Borcich will explain what you need to know about celiac disease (also known as gluten intolerance), including what causes this condition.
What is celiac disease?
This disease is a chronic autoimmune disorder that’s triggered by the protein gluten. Gluten is found in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye, and it’s what makes dough elastic.
In some people, it causes their bodies to overreact to the gluten by mounting an immune response. This causes damage to the villi – small, finger-like projections found along the wall of the small intestine. Villi promote nutrient absorption, so when they’re damaged, your body isn’t able to absorb nutrients as well.
What are the symptoms of gluten intolerance?
Some people have gluten intolerance but don’t experience any symptoms. However, it may cause serious long-term health effects, even in people who aren’t experiencing any noticeable symptoms.
This condition can occur in children and adults, but the symptoms may be slightly different for each group. Children generally tend to have more digestive symptoms when compared to adults.
For children, symptoms often include the following:
- Abdominal pain and bloating
- Chronic diarrhea
- Weight loss
- Short stature
- Delayed puberty
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Dental enamel defects of permanent teeth
In adults, the following symptoms are common:
- Iron-deficiency anemia that’s unexplained
- Bone or joint pain
- Missed menstrual periods
- Tingling, numbness, or pain in the hands and feet
- Liver disorders
- Acid reflux and heartburn
- Abdominal pain
- Depression or anxiety
In addition to these symptoms, gluten intolerance may cause other health issues such as lactose intolerance, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, fertility problems, and lymphoma (a type of cancer that starts in cells that are a part of the body’s immune system).
Are the causes of celiac disease known?
There’s a genetic component to the disease. People who have a first-degree relative (a parent, child or sibling) with this disease have about a 10 percent chance of developing it. Two genes have been associated with celiac disease, and you must carry at least one of them in order for it to occur. Not everyone who carries one of these genes will get celiac disease, however.
If you do carry one of the genes, the disease can be triggered by an environmental factor. It’s not entirely understood exactly what serves as a trigger, but they may include the following:
- Accutane (medication used to treat acne)
- Viral infections
How is celiac disease diagnosed?
Several blood tests are available to screen for celiac disease. If a blood test suggests the presence of celiac disease, your doctor can take a small tissue sample from your small intestine for testing (a biopsy) in order to see if there’s any damage that’s consistent with the disease. If so, your doctor can confirm the diagnosis if improvement is seen when you follow a gluten-free diet. This procedure is performed by a gastroenterologist.
You may want to be screened for gluten intolerance if you’re experiencing any of the common symptoms, have a first-degree relative with the disease, or have an unexplained illness that has persisted for several months.
What are the treatment options?
The first step toward receiving treatment is confirming a diagnosis. Although some of its symptoms can mimic those associated with other diseases, a blood test and upper endoscopy can confirm or rule out the presence of this disease.
The main treatment is a strict gluten-free diet. This gives your small intestine a chance to recover and will help prevent future damage. In addition to wheat, barley, and rye, you may also need to avoid medicine and foods – such as canned soups, instant coffee, and pasta – that may contain gluten.
Medications may also be prescribed if needed, as well as vitamin and mineral supplements.
Where can I find the best treatment for celiac disease in NYC?
Dr. Anthony Borcich is a dual fellowship trained Manhattan gastroenterologist with more than 30 years of experience in accurately diagnosing and treating celiac disease. He specializes in a wide range of procedures, including upper endoscopies that aid in making the correct diagnosis. Dr. Borcich is known and respected for his expertise as well as his commitment to compassionate, patient-centered care.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of celiac disease, have a close relative who has this condition, or have an unexplained illness, make an appointment today with Dr. Borcich. A correct diagnosis is the first step toward relieving your symptoms and avoiding any associated long-term health issues.