Celiac Disease (CD) is an autoimmune disorder in which the small intestine reacts to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and other grains. While the most common symptom of the disease is diarrhea, people with this disorder can also experience bloating, gas, vomiting, weight loss, and myriad other symptoms. Here are 5 interesting facts about Celiac disease that you need to know.
1) Celiac Disease affects 1 in 100 people worldwide.
The first interesting fact about Celiac disease is a common condition found in 1 in 100 people worldwide. In the U.S., CD tends to be more common in white people and affects females slightly more often than males. But around the world, it tends to affect all ages, races, ethnicities, and sexes in equal numbers.
CD is more common in people who have a first-degree relative with the disorder, and in people with other autoimmune disorders, including Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis. CD is also more common in people who have a genetic disorder like Down syndrome.
2) Celiac Disease can affect every organ in the body
Even though the root cause of CD is an immune response to gluten in the small intestine, the chronic inflammation this condition causes can affect the entire body.
In addition to gastrointestinal symptoms, patients with CD often experience malabsorption of many essential nutrients like calcium, iron, folate, Vitamin D, and healthy fats. Malabsorption of these nutrients can have detrimental effects on every organ of the body. Systemic complications deriving from malabsorption can include anemia, osteoporosis, fatigue, infertility, and cognitive dysfunction.
3) Celiac Disease is underdiagnosed
Patients with undiagnosed CD have a higher mortality rate compared to the rest of the population. CD is fatal in 10-30% of patients with undiagnosed or undertreated CD.
Unfortunately, while CD is a common and potentially serious condition, it often goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. It’s estimated that 83% of people with CD in the U.S. have not yet been diagnosed. And on average, it takes 6-10 years of symptoms for a patient with CD to receive a correct diagnosis, since symptoms of the disease are often nonspecific, or are mistakenly attributed to other factors.
The most common diagnostic tool used to detect Celiac Disease is a blood test that measures antibodies against an enzyme called tissue transglutaminase. CD can also be diagnosed on a biopsy of small intestine tissue obtained during an endoscopy.
4) Celiac Disease is treatable, but not curable
CD is a lifelong diagnosis with no known cure. The mainstay of treatment is to adhere to a strict gluten-free diet. Since gluten does not contain any essential nutrients, following a gluten-free diet does not pose any health risks.
Most children with CD see a resolution of their symptoms after following a gluten-free diet for 3-6 months. In adults, it can take up to 2-3 years for symptoms to resolve after going gluten-free.
Other treatments for patients with CD include taking vitamins, supplements, and minerals to correct nutritional deficiencies caused by malabsorption.
Patients with severe CD symptoms can also be treated with oral steroids and other medications that suppress the GI tract’s overactive immune response.
5) Celiac Disease can cause significant problems if not diagnosed and treated.
Our last interesting fact about Celiac disease is that following a strict gluten-free diet is essential for CD patients -- not only because their short-term symptoms will be alleviated, but also because it will dramatically lower their risk of potentially fatal long-term complications like T-cell lymphoma, small intestinal cancer, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Maintaining a gluten-free diet full of fruits and vegetables will also reduce the risk of other significant complications like short stature, delayed puberty, dental defects, miscarriages, depression, migraines, joint pain, and chronic fatigue.
Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant