Celiac disease is a condition that prevents people from eating gluten. If a person who has it eats barley, wheat, or rye, it triggers an immune response that hits the small intestine. The reaction caused by this can cause severe damage to the inner lining of the intestine over time, as well as leave the affected person unable to absorb the nutrients they require. It is usually also accompanied by fatigue, diarrhea, bloating, anemia, and weight loss. The mal-absorption by itself is a serious problem, especially in children.

Celiac disease has no cure, but removing gluten-products from the diet is often enough to make sure the intestine heals, and that the symptoms mentioned above stay under control.


Celiac disease exhibits varying symptoms in adults and children. In the former, you mostly see fatigue, diarrhea, and weight loss, and sometimes bloating, gas, nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, and constipation. More than half also show signs which do not relate to the digestive system, such as the following.

  • Bone density loss (osteoporosis), or bone softening (osteomalacia)
  • Anemia, predominantly caused by iron deficiency
  • Dental enamel damage
  • Blistery and itchy rashes on the skin (dermatitis herpetiformis)
  • Fatigue and headaches
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Joint pain
  • Nervous system injury, in the form of tingling and numbness in the hands and feet, cognitive impairment, and loss of balance
  • Heartburn and acid reflux
  • Reduced spleen functioning (hyposplenism)


Children under 2 years of age would show the following symptoms when best with celiac disease.

  • Vomiting
  • Swollen belly
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Poor appetite
  • Failure to thrive
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Muscle wasting
  • Irritability
  • Weight loss
  • Delayed puberty
  • Short stature

Seeing a Doctor

It is important to see a doctor at one of the nearby low income clinics of you have been experiencing digestive discomfort or diarrhea for over two weeks. Never start a gluten-free diet without having done this first, or even cut down on your current gluten intake.

Celiac disease often gets passed down in families, which means anyone who has a family history of the condition is well served by getting tested at an affordable health clinic. While doing that, also check into the risk factors such as Type 1 diabetes.


Celiac disease is caused by the interaction of genes with gluten intake and environmental factors, although no precise cause has been pinned down as yet. It can be triggered for the first time after surgery, childbirth, pregnancy, severe emotional stress, and viral infection.

The immune system reacts to gluten present in food and causes damage to the villi present in along the small intestine’s walls. These small hair-like projections normally perform the function of absorbing nutrients from the food passing through, but when damaged, they fail to do what they are supposed to. Consequently, the person suffers from malnutrition.

There are some gene variations, which supposedly drive up risk of developing celiac disease, but additional factors are also involved. In Western countries, the rate of this disease stands at 1 percent, and is most common among Caucasians.

Risk factors

Anyone can develop celiac disease, but it does show itself to be a likely situation when people have the following.

  • A family member who has dermatitis herpetiformis or celiac disease
  • Turner syndrome or Down syndrome
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Microscopic colitis
  • Autoimmune thyroid disease
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Addison’s disease


  • Malnutrition: A damaged small intestine is rendered unable to take in nutrients needed to keep the body healthy. This invites weight loss and anemia, as well as stunted growth in children.
  • Loss of bone density: Not enough vitamin D and calcium means the bones become softer in children, and more brittle in adults.
  • Miscarriage and infertility: Reproductive functioning in the body of a person affected by celiac disease tends to be highly abnormal.
  • Lactose intolerance: Once your small intestine gets damaged, you may start seeing issues like diarrhea and abdominal pain whenever you eat dairy products with lactose in them. Lack of gluten might make no difference; you would probably have to wait until your intestine is healed.
  • Cancer: Without a gluten-free diet to balance the celiac disease, adults run up their chances of getting cancer in the form of small bowel cancer or intestinal lymphoma.
  • Neurological problems: People affected by celiac disease sometimes develop neurological problems like peripheral neuropathy or seizures.
  • Adverse effects in children: Children with celiac disease often undergo a significant drop in their inherent drive to thrive, whether in school, social setting, or family-based environments. They may also have their puberty delayed, experience undue weight loss, become irritable, have their dental enamel erode, become anemic, or develop epilepsy.

The only way to be sure you are safe from these effects is to get to a doctor as soon as the symptoms start looking like the beginning of something serious.

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    About the Author

    Dr. Ghassan M. Al-Jazayrly, MD

    A graduate of University of Aleppo Faculty of Medicine, Dr. Al-Jazayrly or, as he is colloquially known: Dr. AJ, is an oncologist and hematologist of a Complete Care Community Health Center (CCCHC) with more than 36 years of experience. In recent years, he’s been involved with a non profit organization known as Every Woman Counts (EWC) which provides free breast and cervical cancer screening and diagnostic services to California’s underserved populations in order to eliminate health disparities for low-income individuals.

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