Celiac disease, also called celiac sprue, is a digestive disorder that occurs when an individual's immune system overreacts to the protein gluten, or other proteins within gluten such as gliadin, found in grains including wheat, rye, barley, and to some degree, oats. When a patient with the disease eats food that contains gluten, the immune system's response damages the intestinal lining. This causes symptoms of abdominal pain and bloating after consuming gluten.
Additionally, complications, including poor absorption, may occur if the patient continues to eat gluten-containing foods. When the intestinal lining is damaged, patients have difficulty absorbing nutrients.
It has not been determined what exactly triggers this reaction in celiac patients. However, celiac disease is associated with autoimmune disorders, such as lupus. Autoimmune disorders occur when the patient's immune system mistakenly identifies body cells as harmful invaders, such as bacteria. As a result, the immune cells in celiac patients attack the patient's intestinal cells.
Researchers at the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC) estimate that one out of 133 people in the United States have celiac disease. Prevalence is even higher, one out of 22 people, among patients who have immediate family members (parent or sibling) who have the disease. This suggests that the disease may be inherited (passed down through families) in some cases.
Individuals can develop this disease at any age, but it is most commonly diagnosed in patients who are eight to 12 months old or in patients ages 30-40.
Although there is currently no known cure for celiac disease, the condition can be managed with a gluten-free diet. In general, patients who strictly follow a gluten-free diet can expect to live normal, healthy lives. Symptoms usually subside in several weeks and patients will be able to absorb food normally once they avoid eating gluten. A dietician or certified nutritionist may help a patient with celiac disease develop a healthy diet. Patients with celiac disease may also find gluten-free cookbooks to be a helpful resource. Many products, including rice flour and potato flour, can be used as substitutes for gluten.
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