Celiac Disease (Gluten Intolerance)

What Is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is a condition in which the body’s immune system reacts to protein gluten, which is found in wheat, barley and rye. Celiac disease is a gluten intolerance causing people to improperly digest foods that contain gluten. The disease is one of the most common genetic conditions, affecting one in every 133 people. The condition is an autoimmune disorder, not an allergy.

With celiac disease, the fingerlike villi in the small intestine that absorb nutrients from food are damaged. These damaged villi make it difficult for the body to absorb and digest nutrients. This can cause children with celiac disease to be deficient in certain vitamins and minerals, making it difficult for them to grow.

Celiac Disease Symptoms

Celiac disease affects many systems of the body. Symptoms can vary greatly depending on a child’s age, and not all symptoms are gastrointestinal. Symptoms can include:

  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Behavior changes
  • Bloated abdomen or “potbelly”
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Delayed puberty
  • Dental enamel defects
  • Diarrhea
  • Food aversion
  • Iron deficiency anemia or other vitamin or mineral deficiencies
  • Skin disorders that produce small itchy blisters on the elbow, feet or knees
  • Gas
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Osteoporosis or bones that fracture easily
  • Poor appetite
  • Poor growth
  • Short stature
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss

Some children may experience no symptoms.

Celiac Disease Treatment

Celiac disease is a chronic condition that requires lifelong treatment. The lining of the small intestine can heal when gluten is eliminated from a child’s diet. However, removing gluten from a child’s diet can prove to be challenging. In addition, a child can be exposed to gluten by means other than food, including medicines, makeup, shampoo, mouthwash and other substances. Some children also may need to restrict dairy products that contain lactose.

The pediatric gastroenterologists and dietitians with Norton Children’s Gastroenterology can work with you and your family to come up with a unique celiac disease treatment plan for your child.

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