Celiac Disease

Children and Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is a condition that causes a variety of symptoms such as weight loss, stomach pain, lack of appetite, diarrhea, and bloating.

These symptoms occur due to the immune system’s response to a protein that is found in certain foods such as barley, wheat, rye, and even some prepared foods- gluten.

Celiac disease is also called gluten-sensitive enteropathy, nontropical sprue, and celiac sprue. All of these terms identify injury to the lining of the small intestine.

The small intestine is the organ that is responsible for the absorption of the vitamins and minerals in foods.

If the immune system damages the lining of the small intestine, it can cause problems with absorption of these vitamins and minerals. This absorption problem is known as malabsorption.

Though there is no cure for celiac disease, strictly avoiding the foods that contain gluten typically will reverse any damage to the lining of the intestine and will also put a stop to any associated symptoms, such as diarrhea.

Celiac Disease Symptoms in Children

It has been said that as many as 75 percent of children who have celiac disease are overweight or even obese. These digestive signs and symptoms are experienced by around 20 to 30 percent of children with celiac disease. However, they do differ with age.

Typically, the signs and symptoms of celiac disease will appear approximately three to five months after the first time they consume foods that contain gluten. In some cases, however this period of time could be as short as one month.

Several infant feeding experts advise that solid foods should not be introduced until around five months of age and that cereals containing gluten should not be introduced until after six months of age.

celiac disease in kids

An infant with celiac, who is otherwise perfectly normal, will usually thrive until gluten is introduced into their diet.

At that time, they will begin to refuse feedings and will not gain weight. Additionally, they may become listless or irritable and will develop a large tummy.

Their stools will become abnormal- usually large, pale, and odiferous. In some cases, it may become very loose- think diarrhea.

The stools typically float due to the high fat and air content. Also, the child could vomit from time to time, sometimes exhibiting projectile vomiting after consuming certain foods containing gluten.

Some children will lose weight and their buttocks will become flat. A few children will become very ill- to the point of dehydration.

Of course, symptoms vary from one celiac child to the next and it is hard to determine how the disorder will present itself in your child.

Older children who present with more subtle symptoms, such as poor growth, anemia, and poor appetite are much harder to diagnose because there are many other possible reasons for poor growth in children. When the child reaches puberty, the clinical symptoms of the celiac disease will often diminish or even disappear.

However, the abnormalities- both morphologic and biochemical- are still present. In early adulthood, the active symptoms of the condition will recur.

Though teens feel like they have “outgrown” the condition, the condition is actually still present and therefore a gluten-free diet will still need to be followed.

Even with this information, there are some signs and symptoms that most- even if not all- infants and children will experience if they have celiac disease.

Infants typically experience the following symptoms:

  • Swollen belly
  • Chronic Diarrhea
  • Failure to thrive/weight loss
  • Pain

Older children will most likely experience the following signs and symptoms:

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Delayed puberty
  • Short stature
  • Neurological symptoms such as ADHD, headaches, lack of muscle coordination, and learning disabilities

Gluten Free Diet

Once a child has been officially diagnosed with celiac disease, they must accept (and, as the parent, you must help them to accept) that there are certain foods that he/she will no longer be able to eat.

The attitudes of parents and siblings as well as the community are also very important. If everyone around the child can accept the fact that the child has celiac disease and a gluten-free diet must be followed, it will be so much easier on the child- both now and into adulthood.

It is best that you communicate the gluten-free diet to a child based on what they can have, rather than what they cannot.

Keeping lists on the fridge, in the snack drawer, and keeping gluten-free foods in the house, and including everyone in the family in the gluten-free diet will be very helpful.

Additionally, keep a list on you at all times, as well as on file with the school to help with eating out or school meals.

Becoming a Celiac Family

In most cases, it is best for the celiac child if the whole family is on the gluten-free diet. This does not mean that there shouldn’t be special occasions and special foods occasionally.

However, if all the meals at the dinner table are the same, the feeling of being “different” or “weird” will be removed.

Most often, the exceptions are cakes, pastries, and breads- which should be made available for all family members (you can get gluten-free versions of these).

It is very important that you and your child get educated as much as possible and as early as possible on every part of the gluten free diet.

The symptoms and problems that could happen due to going off of this special diet can be handled in a pretty simple and straightforward manner.

You must not instill fear or guilt into your child when dealing with these matters. As your child begins to learn more about him/herself and his/her body, the digestive system must be part of that education, as well as celiac disease and how to properly deal with it.

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1 Comment

  • Thanks a lot for this highly educative post. This is actually the first time i am hearing or reading about celiac disease in children. Every mother should be cautious of what they give to their babies. Baby friendly (exclusive breastfeeding) is actually the best.

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