Medically reviewed on June 14, 2022 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that inhibits the body’s ability to process gluten. In addition to causing acute and chronic digestive distress, celiac disease can also cause major damage to the small intestine.
Fortunately, people with celiac disease can find solace and optimal health by adopting a gluten-free lifestyle and staying away from gluten-rich foods and products. However, the key to finding relief and wellness with celiac disease starts by confirming you have it (which a Celiac Disease Screening Test may help with).
In this guide, we’ll discuss how to know if you have celiac disease and how to adapt habits if you do.
Celiac disease is a chronic autoimmune disorder that primarily affects the small intestine. It arises when an individual is unable to digest gluten, a type of protein found in foods like :
There are many foods to avoid with celiac disease. When people with celiac disease are exposed to gluten, their immune cells target the villi lining the small intestine—anemone-like structures, which normally absorb proteins and other nutrients in food. This causes the villi to atrophy and flatten out, undermining their ability to digest other food that travels down the digestive tract .
When the small intestine is damaged, it can cause a cascade of other impediments to the digestive system and other systems of the body, especially if left untreated. Because there is no cure for celiac disease, it’s critical for individuals with celiac to adapt to a diet free of gluten-containing foods to take care of their digestive and overall health.
Learn More: What foods to avoid with celiac disease
While often confused for a wheat allergy, celiac disease is not a food allergy.
There are two main differences between food allergies and celiac disease:
Celiac disease is also commonly confused with gluten intolerance, a condition suspected to affect around 6% of people .
Where celiac disease directly impacts and injures the small intestine, gluten intolerance does not necessarily result in structural damage to the digestive system. That said, gluten intolerance can still be painful, and in many cases, it may result in physical and cognitive symptoms akin to celiac disease .
The hallmark signs of celiac are concentrated in the digestive system. People with celiac may experience :
Because celiac disease is a chronic illness, symptoms may worsen and spread to other physical systems of the body. Over time, celiac disease may result in :
Finally, the manifestations of celiac disease may vary with age. Celiac disease can impede development in young children by delaying growth or puberty onset .
Health care professionals have developed an effective diagnostic sequence for determining whether an individual has celiac disease:
If these blood tests indicate the possible presence of celiac disease, your healthcare provider may advise undergoing an endoscopy to examine for any discernible damage to the small intestine.
There are two ways a healthcare provider may administer an endoscopy :
Celiac disease is genetic, which means it tends to cluster in families . So if a parent is diagnosed with celiac, you’re more likely to have it.
To that end, if a parent routinely experiences adverse digestive reactions to gluten-rich foods, they may have undiagnosed celiac disease. While testing for food sensitivities may have been inaccessible in the past, medicine has come a long way over the past few decades, making testing for gluten-related issues even more accessible to individuals looking to take their well-being into their own hands.
Some 2 million Americans are diagnosed with celiac disease, though some researchers believe many people live with the condition without knowing it . Since it’s impossible to observe small intestine damage without a diagnostic test, celiac disease often gets mistaken for routine digestive upset.
Moreover, the incidence of celiac disease is higher within the following demographics :
There is currently no treatment that can improve the small intestine’s ability to process gluten. However, gluten-free diets are highly effective at restoring healthy digestive function for people with celiac. By eliminating foods containing gluten, many people with celiac can make substantial gains in recovery and go on to live nourished, fulfilling lives .
Often, the most difficult part of adhering to a gluten-free diet is steering clear of “hidden gluten.” Even if you’re avoiding traditional bread, some products may contain trace amounts of gluten, including :
If you have celiac disease, the best course of action is to look for “gluten-free” labeling when shopping for common household products. Additionally, you can ask your pharmacists to confirm that any medications you’re prescribed are certifiably gluten-free.
Even when you take the appropriate precautions, you may find it challenging to exclude gluten from the diet—especially if you have a taste for carbohydrate-rich foods. Fortunately, there are many gluten-free alternatives for familiar food staples available to people with celiac disease, from pastas to sandwich bread.
To check for antibodies that may indicate celiac disease, try the Everlywell at-home Celiac Disease Screening Test. This test checks 3 key antibodies (including total IgA) to help aid in the diagnosis and management of celiac disease. For test results indicating increased risk of celiac disease, our patient care team will reach out to you about next steps.
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