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Celiac Disease: 4 Things You Should Know

January 26, 2015

Does your stomach get upset when eating a bagel or enjoying a pasta dinner? If so, gluten could be the culprit. 

What is gluten? It’s a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley, as well as some everyday products such as medicines and vitamins, even some lipsticks and toothpastes.  

You may have noticed a lot more restaurants and food labels are clearly identifying items that are gluten free. That’s because for people with gluten sensitivity or intolerance, gluten can cause a number of health issues, from stomach sensitivity to allergic reactions to any product containing wheat. These people must be careful label readers, as gluten is often in many items you might not expect, such as broth and salad dressings.  

What is Celiac Disease

Dr. Rose Cesar, a gastroenterologist at Baystate Gastroenterology in Greenfield, says that celiac disease is a dietary intolerance to gluten that affects an estimated 1 in 133 Americans, or about 1% of the population.  

“For a patient with celiac disease, gluten causes inflammation and damage to the intestines. The damage is actually visible on biopsy and can cause problems with digestion and the absorption of nutrients,” says Cesar. “Patients often experience bloating, cramping, and diarrhea after consuming gluten.”  

Some people may not have celiac disease, but still have sensitivity or intolerance to wheat products. Other conditions can also be aggravated by gluten, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). About 30% of people with IBS benefit from adopting a gluten-free diet,” says Cesar.  

4 Facts about Celiac

  1. It is possible to have celiac disease and not even know it. According to the National Foundation of Celiac Disease Awareness, it is estimated that 83% of Americans who have celiac disease are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with other conditions. Some patients may not have severe symptoms, but still test positive for celiac disease.
  2. If you suspect you may have gluten intolerance, talk to your primary care provider. Celiac disease can be detected using a simple blood test, although sometimes a referral to a gastroenterologist for an upper endoscopy with biopsies of the small intestine is required to confirm. Diagnosis is important to your long-term health and overall nutrition.
  3. If you have celiac disease, remember that knowledge is power. Understanding what you can and cannot eat and drink, and other products you need to be aware of, is important.
  4. There are challenges with a gluten-free diet. People with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity are often amazed at how much better they feel once they eliminate gluten from their diet. But the addition of a daily multivitamin is essential to prevent deficiencies of the important B-group vitamins, and you should be monitored periodically for deficiencies of iron and other nutrients.

More: Gastroenterology at Baystate Health