Is it possible to reach adulthood without knowing you have celiac? Do you have any symptoms that are screaming out you could be intolerant to gluten? Celiac is an autoimmune disorder that reacts to the gluten protein gliadin, which is mainly found in bread, pasta, cookies, and other products that are made with wheat, barley and rye. When this protein enters the small bowels, the body reacts by producing an inflammation.
Although the body's reaction to consuming gluten is often violent in people with celiac, the symptoms are often vague enough to escape the attention of the patient, and even doctors. There are also celiac sufferers who do not have any of the most obvious symptoms at all.When there are symptoms, it's most often diarrhea, stomach cramps or even heavy abdominal pain, and abdominal bloating that warn a person's something is wrong. The question is what?
All of these can be cause by the flu, or an upset stomach, too. Those with celiac who consume the offending foods often enough will have such inflamed small bowels that the absorption of nutrients becomes very difficult. In children who have celiac, this may result in failure to thrive, a child who doesn't grow fast enough. Other symptoms are fatigue, depression, anemia (and related feelings of weakness), dental problems, and joint pain and muscle pain. Diarrhea and foul-smelling, weirdly colored stools are typical at this stage.
People who have other autoimmune disorders are more likely to also suffer from celiac, as are those who have Down Syndrome. Lynn, an acquaintance of mine who is an ER nurse, had most of the symptoms we talked about above for many years. She also had four children in a short space of time, one after the other, and worked irregular hours including night shifts. She was so tired she could hardly get up in the mornings, lost a lot of weight, and was depressed. It all seemed so logical to her: of course, having four children under 7, two of whom went to special needs schools, and working as well made her tired and irritated. Working night shifts can make people depressed. When a blood test revealed she was anemic, she blamed breastfeeding. Her story demonstrates that the symptoms of celiac can be hard to pin down, and are easily explained by other factors in many cases. Eventually, Lynn was diagnosed with celiac disease in her thirties. After a few years of learning to live with a gluten-free diet (hard, in a society dominated by bread and pasta!), she is symptom-free and can make numerous tasty, gluten-free meals.
Do you recognize yourself in this story? Although celiac disease is not necessarily the culprit, these symptoms do deserve medical attention and serious diagnostic testing. Celiac is diagnosed through a combination of blood tests, and an endoscopy in which sample tissue are removed from the small bowel. Those who do turn out to suffer from celiac will be relived to find that their symptoms can be a thing of the past with the right diet. Those there is no cure, people who avoid consuming gluten will be able to live very normal lives with celiac disease.