Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that is triggered when a person eats gluten. An autoimmune disease occurs when the body starts to attack normal tissue, as if an infection were present. Celiac disease has been known by many different names, including gluten-sensitive enteropathy, gliadin sensitive enteropathy, and celiac sprue (to differentiate it from tropical sprue).
In celiac disease, there is a permanent intolerance gluten, the gliadin fraction of wheat protein and related alcohol-soluble proteins (called prolamines) found in rye and barley. Celiac disease occurs in genetically susceptible individuals who eat these proteins. This condition self-perpetuates as long as these food products are in the diet. This results in the malabsorption of critical vitamins, minerals, and calories. Signs and symptoms of the disease classically include diarrhea, short stature, iron-deficiency anemia and lactose intolerance. Patients may present with another autoimmune disease (such as type I diabetes), or a family history of the disease, with no gastrointestinal symptoms.
Serum antibodies can be measured with a blood test to screen for celiac disease. However, the key to confirming the diagnosis remains a small intestinal biopsy, combined with the person’s response to a gluten-free diet. Physicians in the United States must maintain a high index of suspicion for this disease, as it is significantly under-diagnosed in this country.
What is Celiac Disease? – Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that is triggered when a person eats gluten.
What is Gluten Intolerance? – People can also experience an ‘intolerance’ to gluten. Food intolerances are not thought to be immune mediated.
Why is it important to know if you have celiac disease, versus a wheat allergy or gluten intolerance? – Celiac disease, wheat allergy and gluten-intolerance are treated similarly, in that patients with these conditions must remove wheat from their diet.