Before addressing the issue of the commonality of celiac disease, you must first understand what it is. Celiac disease is when a negative immune reaction occurs after consuming gluten, which is a protein that is found in rye, barley, and wheat. If you have celiac disease, consuming gluten will cause a negative response in your small intestine. This reaction, over time, causes inflammation in the small intestine that damages the lining and therefore blocks the absorption of some necessary nutrients.
Additionally, the damage can result in weight loss, bloating, and even diarrhea in some cases. Eventually, other parts of your body such as your bones, nervous system, liver, brain, and others end up being deprived of necessary vitamins and minerals. Growth and development of children can be affected if they have celiac disease. Additionally, the irritation in the intestine can cause stomach pain- especially right after eating.
There is not a cure for celiac disease. However, following a strict, gluten-free diet will help to manage your symptoms and promote healing of your intestines.
How Common Is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is fairly common- and affects people all over the world. It is hard to pinpoint a single statistic that states the number of people afflicted with this disorder, because studies have been done on people of all ethnicities, all ages, and various medical conditions. The results are somewhat different in each of the populations.
As far as the United States, it has been said that approximately one in every 100 people has this condition. This statistic stems from a much larger study, which makes it much more reliable. Then again, the subjects included in this study were mostly Caucasian. This means that the prevalence of celiac disease may or may not be the same in other populations, so it may not be exactly right, but it’s the best estimate found thus far.
Researchers do believe that over two million people in the USA do have celiac disease, but don’t realize it. Among those who have a close relative, the prevalence is much higher. For example, if you are a parent, child, or sibling of someone with celiac disease, your chances of developing the disease are one in twenty-two. If you are an uncle/aunt, nephew/niece, grandchild/grandparent, or even half- brother/sister, your risk of developing celiac disease is one in thirty-nine.
Symptoms of Celiac Disease
As with many other conditions, the signs and symptoms of celiac disease vary from person to person. The classic signs are weight loss and diarrhea. Typically, people with celiac disease actually have few to no digestive symptoms. Approximately a third of those who have been diagnosed with celiac disease experience bouts of diarrhea and about half of them lose weight. Approximately twenty percent of individuals who have been diagnosed with celiac disease experience constipation and about ten percent are considered obese.
In addition to the digestive problems, celiac disease has other signs and symptoms, including:
- Osteoporosis- loss of bone density
- Osteomalacia- softening of bone
- Anemia- due to a deficiency of iron
- Damage to tooth enamel
- Fatigue and headaches
- Itchy, blistery rash on the skin (known as dermatitis herpetiformis)
- Injury to nervous system
- Reduced spleen function
- Heartburn and acid reflux
- Joint pain
Causes of Celiac Disease
What exactly causes celiac disease is not known. When your immune system overreacts to the gluten contained in certain foods, this reaction does damage to the villi (tiny, hair-like projections) in the small intestine. The villi are there to absorb the nutrients from the food that you consume. Typically, these villi look like a deep pile of plush carpet. The damage that is a result of celiac disease makes the surface of the small intestine look more like a tile floor. This means that your body can no longer absorb the nutrients you need for health and growth.
A study conducted by the Mayo Clinic and NIH, or National Institutes of Health, shows the statistic that approximately one in 141 people have celiac disease, though most of the time it goes undiagnosed. This disorder is most common in Caucasians, though other ethnicities can develop it as well.
It has been proven that some gene mutations increase the risk of developing celiac disease. However, having these gene mutations does not guarantee that you will develop celiac disease- there are other factors that must be involved as well.
Occasionally, celiac disease can be triggered- or become active- after pregnancy/childbirth, surgery, severe emotional distress, or a viral infection.
When to Get Help for Your Symptoms
If you have diarrhea or digestive distress that lasts for longer than two weeks, you should consult your physician. If your child is experiencing symptoms such as irritability, paleness, not growing, or has a potbelly and extremely foul-smelling bulky stools, make an appointment with their pediatrician immediately.
Before trying yourself on a gluten-free diet, you should consult your physician. If you stop consuming foods containing gluten before being tested for celiac disease, the results of the test could be affected.
Know that celiac disease does tend to run in families and if someone in your family has the condition, you should let your physician know and find out if you should be tested. Additionally, consult with your physician if you or a family member has a risk factor for celiac disease, such as type 1 diabetes.