Digesting the details of celiac disease: Part 1 of 2

Posted by Grace Fjeldberg, R.D.N.
May 03, 2013

Part of the human body’s digestive system includes the small intestine. This lengthy tube is lined with hair-like projections called villi. Villi help absorb nutrients from the food you eat. However, the consumption of the protein gluten by people with a condition known as celiac disease damages and even destroys villi, which can result in malnutrition and many other serious complications.

There are many questions about celiac disease, and knowledge and understanding will help you to identify and treat this condition.

Q. Is celiac disease just gluten intolerance?

A. No. Current research suggests gluten intolerance is a condition that may exist when people have symptoms similar to celiac disease without villous atrophy (intestinal damage). 

Although gluten intolerance does not destroy villi like celiac disease does, it can have severe symptoms and cause damage to your body.

The medical community recently recognized gluten intolerance as a problematic condition and more research is needed regarding its diagnosis. A gluten-free diet is necessary for proper treatment of celiac disease and gluten intolerance. Always discuss gluten concerns with a specialist to ensure an accurate diagnosis.

Q. What are symptoms of celiac disease?

A. Nearly half of celiac disease patients have no symptoms, and everyone reacts differently. However, there are general signs found in many celiac sufferers, including signs of nutrient deficiencies.

Some of these symptoms are:

  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Fatty or oily bowel movements that may be gray in color
  • Stunted growth in children
  • Weight loss

It’s best to contact your primary health care provider if you consistently notice these symptoms. Even if celiac disease is not the cause, these symptoms may be a sign of a different underlying condition.

Read more:
Digesting the details of celiac disease: Part 2 of 2

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