Celiac Disease: Symptoms and How to Get Diagnosed

Consuming gluten and wheat has become a controversial hot-topic. In a recent article, we discussed the reasons for you to be mindful of your wheat consumption and discussed non-celiac wheat sensitivity. Wheat has become integral in the American diet, but many people have started questioning its impact on their health. We all love bread, bagels, pasta, cereal, pizza, baked goods, and many things that often contain wheat. For some of us, however, wheat can cause serious health reactions.

Celiac disease is an inflammatory condition of the digestive tract where the immune system believes gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, is the enemy. The intense inflammatory reaction caused by ingesting gluten harms the gut lining leading to poor absorption of essential nutrients. Since the body’s cells are deprived of vital nourishment, the inflammation eventually spreads outside of the gut and affects many other organ systems.

Celiac disease can be fairly debilitating for a person. It’s a lifelong autoimmune disorder that affects multiple parts of your body (including your brain), and can lead to other serious illnesses whether or not you seek treatment. The most effective way to manage celiac disease is to be on a strict gluten-free, nutrient-dense diet so the immune system can start healing. You may go on a gluten-free diet for your own health purposes, but if you think you may have a sensitivity to wheat and other grain-based foods, it is important to know now and start treating it right away. Below are the most common symptoms of celiac disease and how to get diagnosed.

Celiac Disease and Gluten Intolerance

Celiac disease is far more common than it was 50 years ago. This a major cause for concern since our diets and economy are centered around grain-based foods. Researchers have yet to agree on the main reason for this, but acknowledge that it’s not just because more people are getting diagnosed.

Celiac disease affects everyone differently and although awareness of the problem has never been greater, it can still be hard to diagnose. There are more than 200 known celiac disease symptoms which may develop as a child or later in life as an adult. Symptoms may be mild enough to ignore or attributed to another condition.  Some people with celiac disease may not show any symptoms at all. Although celiac disease generally shows up in childhood, people of all ages may develop it. Children and adults generally show different symptoms. Digestive symptoms are more common in infants and children, with only one-third of adults experiencing diarrhea.

Most Common Celiac Disease Symptoms Found In Children:

Most Common Celiac Disease Symptoms Found In Adults:

How To Diagnose Celiac Disease

Whether you show symptoms or not, everyone with celiac disease will experience long-term risks and complications. That’s why it’s important that you not only go to an integrative physician and get evaluated for celiac disease/gluten sensitivity. For example, some people with celiac disease have no symptoms at all, but can be diagnosed through a blood test. For others, a blood test may come back negative, but an intestinal biopsy may show that they do in fact have celiac disease.

An estimated 1 in 100 Americans, or about 1% of the population, has celiac disease. Although such a small portion of the population has the disease, it is known that many cases go undiagnosed. According to the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University Medical Center, “anyone who suffers from an unexplained, stubborn illness for several months, should consider celiac disease a possible cause and be properly screened for it.”

It’s important to get tested for celiac disease because the symptoms can have long-lasting effects on one’s health and well-being. Celiac disease can lead to a number of other disorders including reduced bone density, osteoporosis, infertility, neurological disorders, some cancers, and other autoimmune diseases. According to a study from the U.S. National Institutes of Health's National Library of Medicine, “Over a four-year period, people with undiagnosed celiac disease cost an average of $3,964 more than healthy individuals.

Who Should Be Screened For Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease can develop in a person who is at risk at any point in their life. Some people can eat gluten for decades before developing an intolerance, while others experience the autoimmune reaction much sooner. People born with a genetic predisposition for celiac disease can develop the disease based on certain environmental factors turning on the expression of these genes. Early diagnosis of celiac disease may help prevent the development or worsening of other autoimmune disorders and health complications.

Children older than 3 and adults experiencing symptoms of celiac disease should be tested. First-degree relatives of people with celiac disease– parents, siblings, and children– are ten times more at risk. Whether they experience symptoms or not, first-degree relatives of people with celiac disease should be tested periodically, as they have a 1 in 10 risk of developing the disease, compared to 1 in 100 for the general population. Regardless of symptoms, anyone with an associated autoimmune disorder should also be tested periodically, including those with diabetes mellitus, thyroid or liver disease, Addison’s disease, Down syndrome, Turner syndrome, Williams syndrome, and selective immunoglobulin A (IgA) deficiency. Women who have experienced recurrent miscarriages or infertility (without a known medical cause) should be tested for celiac disease.

Gluten Sensitivity / Non-Celiac Wheat Sensitivity

Many people claim to be sensitive to gluten, knowing that they don’t have celiac disease, but nonetheless experience symptoms when they consume wheat. People with celiac disease are unable to properly digest gluten, a protein that’s found in wheat, barley, and rye. Those with celiac disease definitely need to avoid gluten.

What about the rest of us who don’t have celiac disease but are still sensitive to wheat? For most of us ingesting too much wheat will damage the intestinal lining and prevent proper absorption of essential nutrients. A person may experience symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, fatigue, mood irritability, brain fog, attention and memory issues.  

You may go on a gluten-free diet for your own health purposes, but if you think you may have a sensitivity to wheat, it is important to know now before other health complications arise. To learn more, check out this robust celiac disease guide reviewed by top board-certified physicians.

How To Get Diagnosed With Celiac Disease

There are many other symptoms that could indicate the presence of celiac disease. If you are concerned about the impact of your eating habits on your health, contact Dr. Payal Bhandari, M.D. The only true way to effectively diagnosis gluten sensitivity and celiac disease is by doing an elimination diet since blood tests can often have false negative results.  Dr. Bhandari works with patients with celiac disease to find easy and effective ways to heal the gut and ideally place the disease into remission.

Dr. Bhandari is an integrative functional medicine physician who specializes in attending to all aspects of an individual’s life. By understanding the root cause of illness, Dr. Bhandari will guide you through how your symptoms or illness can be reversed.  Healthy living for patients is dear to Dr. Bhandari’s heart. She loves to help people take back control of their health through simple tips we can each be empowered by.

Dr. Payal Bhandari Dr. Payal Bhandari M.D. is a leading practitioner of integrative and functional medicine in San Francisco.

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