Healthy Living

Facts Every Celiac Patient Should Know

Every patient should know these facts about celiac disease. Learn them now!

Facts Every Celiac Patient Should Know

When someone is diagnosed with celiac disease they have to make significant lifestyle changes to ensure that they can properly manage their disorder. To make those changes, it’s critical that the patient and their family members have a proper understanding of celiac disease and how it affects a person’s body.

These are the most important facts about celiac disease that every newly diagnosed patient should know.

1. It’s not an allergy

Because many people suffer from their symptoms after they are exposed to gluten, many people believe that celiac disease is actually an allergy to wheat.  The reality is that it’s an autoimmune disease that is triggered when a person consumes gluten or is exposed to wheat protein. Unlike an allergy to peanuts or lactose intolerance, the product itself doesn’t cause the reaction but rather when the body is exposed to gluten, it actually begins to attack itself in defense. The reality is that celiac disease is much more similar to conditions such as type 1 diabetes, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, than it is to other food allergies. 

2. Its many symptoms make it hard to diagnose

When anyone thinks of celiac disease, they automatically think of unpleasant gastrointestinal issues that come along with it.  While things like diarrhea, constipation, cramps and general tummy troubles are symptoms of celiac disease. Many children who develop celiac disease suffer from these symptoms, but a third of adults suffer from them as well. More often than not, adults have to deal with a few intestinal issues, but are more debilitated by things like iron deficiency, anemia, nutrition deficiencies, skin issues, fatigue and a whole range of other symptoms. There are also symptoms of infertility, tooth discoloration, and numbness that are also related to celiac disease.

3. It’s a family thing

Worldwide, as many as one in every 100 people suffer from celiac disease. This makes it very likely that people from the same family tend to have it.  Celiac disease also plays a genetic role. Someone who’s a first-degree relative, which is a parent or sibling has the disease, has a 10% chance of developing it themselves.  Someone with a second-degree family member, like an aunt, uncle or cousin have about a 5% chance of developing it.  This doesn’t mean that those who have no history of celiac disease are in the clear, it can still develop and become a part of any family tree at any time.

Another genetic factor is the fact that some people are celiac disease carriers. While this doesn’t mean that the carriers will develop the disease, there is obviously a higher risk. What it does mean is that those carriers are likely to pass that gene along and at some point introduce celiac disease into the family. As much as 30% of the U.S. population is a carrier of celiac, making the risk of developing it quite high.

4. It has many triggers

Aside from genetics, another risk factor is already having a pre-existing autoimmune condition.  For some reason, those who already suffer from one autoimmune disorder are likely to develop another.

Environmental factors also play a big role in the development of celiac disease.  Studies have shown the relationship between things like the usage of antibiotics early in life or being born via C-section, both of which can affect important microbes that live in the gut. There have also been connections between the stomach flu and disease; this is especially true for those who have a predisposition to the disorder.

5. It’s dangerous

While the idea of celiac can seem pretty insignificant, it actually has the potential to be extremely dangerous.  Without treatment, those who suffer from celiac disease can head down a path that is full of dangers. Celiac can cause irreversible intestinal damage that leads to a body that does not absorb the nutrients it needs to survive and leading to further medical complications.  It’s been known to cause developmental delays in children and delay puberty or affect growth. Adults who remain untreated can eventually find themselves fighting heart disease and things like type 2 diabetes. There have also been connections between celiac disease and cancer. It’s not something to mess with and it’s certainly not something to ignore. Without treatment, celiac disease is dangerous and could even be called potentially fatal.

6. It’s hard to diagnose

Celiac disease is notorious for being hard to diagnose.  It’s not unheard of to hear stories of people who dealt with symptoms for years before getting the right diagnosis. Sadly, by that time, it’s possible to be suffering from permanent damage caused by the disorder.

To be diagnosed with the disease, the patient must undergo a series of tests including a blood test. The tests are designed to look a special protein that is typically found in the blood of people with celiac disease. While a positive test does not necessarily mean that the person has celiac, it gives the doctors enough information to call for more tests or send the patient to a gastroenterologist. Sometimes blood tests do not provide enough information. In that case, doctors will opt to do a biopsy of the small intestine to look for telltale signs of celiac disease.

People who suspect they have celiac disease or are being tested.  Prior to the test, it’s important to not make any changes to the diet, in particular, do not stop eating gluten. Gluten is what causes the body to be inflamed and attack itself.  If the patient is clear and free of gluten, there will be no indication of the disorder.

7. It’s possible to live a healthy life with celiac disease

At the moment, there is only one effective treatment for celiac disease and that is to follow a strict gluten-free diet. While this means that patients typically have to shift their lifestyle, learn to read food labels and always be hypervigilant about what they are being exposed to, it’s not a death sentence. It’s possible to keep a celiac disease from flaring-up and from suffering as long as the disease is kept under control.

A good reminder is that it can take many months of recovery after being exposed to gluten, especially if the patient suffers from a severe case of the disease. Keeping that in the back of your mind, it can make it a bit easier to take the time to make sure that gluten isn’t around where it shouldn’t be.

Patients should also stay on top of what’s trending in the world of celiac disease. This means learning about things like potential vaccines that are being created or the latest gluten-free foods that are offered in grocery stores.

Since more people seem to be developing the disorder, it has become much easier for patients and their families to access more information on the disorder and specialized foods. 

While no one wants to hear about a disease growing or spreading, it’s great to know that living with celiac disease is no longer a ‘taboo subject'.