Celiac disease is a disorder that causes problems in your small intestine when you eat gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Gluten is poison to people with celiac disease.
Gluten damages the small intestine of people who have celiac disease. This damage keeps your body from taking in many of the nutrients from the foods you eat, including vitamins, calcium, protein, carbohydrates, fats and other important nutrients. Your body can't work well without these nutrients.
Celiac disease can cause different symptoms at different times:
Celiac disease runs in the family. You inherited the tendency to get this disease from your parents. If 1 member of your family has celiac disease, about 1 person out of 10 other members of your family is also likely to have it. You may have this tendency for a while without getting sick. Then something like severe stress, physical injury, infection, childbirth or surgery can "turn on" your celiac disease.
Blood tests can help your doctor diagnose this disease. If you think you have celiac disease, talk to your doctor. Don’t stop eating gluten before you have a blood test. If you stop eating gluten before your blood test, it can mess up your results.
If your blood test indicates that you might have celiac disease, an intestinal biopsy (taking a small piece of tissue from your small intestine using a thin tube) or the diagnosis of dermatitis herpetiformis (a skin rash) will confirm that you have celiac disease.
Celiac disease is serious. Fortunately you can control celiac disease by following a gluten-free diet, meaning you don’t eat any gluten. By following the right diet, you can reverse the damage caused by celiac disease and you'll feel better. But if you "cheat" on your diet, the damage will come back, even if you don't feel sick right away.
People who follow a gluten-free diet usually avoid all foods that contain wheat, barley and rye products, including many breads, pastas, cereals and processed foods, Some people also choose to avoid oats because some oat products may be contaminated with wheat gluten, Gluten also is sometimes used in medicines, so be sure to talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking a new medicine.
Learning to be gluten-free may be difficult at first. It will take time for you and your family to learn how to avoid gluten. You’ll have to learn to read ingredient labels and identify the foods that contain gluten. You’ll have to be careful when you buy foods at the grocery store, or when you eat out. You’ll probably have to learn some new cooking recipes. For help, contact one of the celiac support groups listed below. These groups are excellent sources of information and advice. They’ll help you find gluten-free foods and good recipes, and can give you tips on successfully living with celiac disease.
The following cookbooks are written by Bette Hagman and published by Henry Holt and Co. In the books, Hagman, who has celiac disease, shares what she has learned about a gluten-free diet.
The following book is a general guide to living gluten-free:
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff