Celiac Disease and Gluten

Celiac disease affects the way the body digests. It is triggered by the consumption of gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley food products. It also is sometimes in medicines, vitamins, and stamp and envelope adhesive.

For those who have inherited celiac disease, gluten damages the hair-like villi lining the small intestine that allow nutrients to be absorbed into the bloodstream. This can result in malnutrition, anemia, delayed growth in children and weight loss. Symptoms include:

  • Gas

  • Chronic diarrhea

  • Stomach pain

  • Fatigue

  • Change in mood, irritability

  • Weight loss

  • Itchy skin rash with blisters

  • Slowed growth

  • Unexplained anemia

  • Muscle cramps, bone pain or joint pain

The only way to diagnose celiac disease is a combination of a specific blood test, an endoscopic tissue sampling and a colonoscopy. Otherwise the disease can be mistaken for irritable bowel syndrome, iron-deficiency anemia caused by menstrual blood loss, Crohn's disease, diverticulitis, intestinal infection or chronic fatigue syndrome.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers information about a gluten-free diet. The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness also is a resource, as are the Celiac Disease Foundation and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.