Celiac disease symptoms make diagnosis difficult

There are over 200 possible symptoms that a person can exhibit if they have celiac disease — making it the main reason people often live with the condition for an extended period of time before being diagnosed.

Celiac disease is a serious genetic autoimmune disorder where the ingestion of gluten causes the body’s own immune system to attack the lining of the small intestine. Gluten is the name given to the proteins found in wheat, rye and barley.

It is estimated that one in 100 people worldwide have celiac disease, however, a large number don’t even know they have it. In fact, 2.5 million Americans are undiagnosed and are at-risk for long-term health complications, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation (CDF).

“Celiac disease in adults can oftentimes be a difficult thing to diagnose because the symptoms are vague and nonspecific,” said Paul Jennewine, MD, an internal medicine doctor with Middletown Medical Group. “Patients can go on for months, even years, with symptoms before their disease is finally diagnosed.”

The most common symptoms of celiac disease are gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea, constipation, abdominal bloating, cramping or discomfort. The disease can also cause irritability, fatigue, weight loss and moodiness.

The disease can be diagnosed with a blood test that shows an increase in antibodies in the immune system. Such a test is often an indicator. The proven diagnosis is by taking an endoscopy down a person’s esophagus to see if the small intestines have been damaged. A biopsy of the damage is usually what provides the final answer, said Dr. Jennewine, who practices with Premier Physician Network.

A proper diagnosis of celiac disease is important. Left untreated, the disease can cause a range of health complications such as miscarriage, anemia, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, central and peripheral nervous system disorders and early onset osteoporosis, the CDF said.

If you’ve been diagnosed

The following are important points to keep in mind if you have been diagnosed with celiac disease:

You had it at birth: Celiac disease is caused by a genetic defect, but doesn’t always activate until sometime later in life. It is unknown as to what causes the genetic defect or what determines when the disease surfaces in a person’s life.

You may develop another autoimmune disorder: Individuals with another autoimmune disorder are at a greater risk for developing celiac disease. Likewise, those who have celiac disease are more likely to be diagnosed with another autoimmune disorder such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.

You will heal through lifestyle changes: The best and only treatment for celiac disease is diet restriction. Patients who restrict gluten from their diet see dramatic improvements in their symptoms within weeks or months, although complete healing of the damaged small intestine lining may take longer.

Your offspring could be at-risk: Celiac disease is hereditary. People with a first-degree relative with celiac disease have a one in 10 risk of developing it.

You’re living in a good day and age: The increase in demand for gluten-free food options has been a welcome change for many individuals suffering from celiac disease. “Patients are no longer left to do the guess work for themselves in terms of what they can and cannot eat,” Dr. Jennewine said.

For more information on celiac disease or to find a Premier Physician Network provider near you, visit www.premierhealthnet.com/provider.

Premier HealthNet is one of the largest groups of pediatrics, family medicine, internal medicine, and urgent care practices in southwest Ohio. For more information, go online to www.premierhealthnet.com/news.

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