There is a lot of talk about eating a gluten-free diet these days. It may be a bit confusing to the casual observer, especially when the term ‘celiac disease’ is thrown into the mix.
Does everyone on a gluten-free diet have celiac disease? Do you need to be diagnosed with celiac disease to start a gluten-free diet? Is it important to know if you have celiac disease or not?
What defines celiac disease is damage to the small intestine. When a person with celiac disease eats the protein gluten, it damages the ‘villi’ of the small intestine. This damage makes it almost impossible for nutrients to be absorbed into the body and bloodstream, which leads to a nutrient imbalance and malnourishment.
If left untreated, celiac disease can lead to osteoporosis, thyroid disease, infertility, cancer, and other diseases and conditions. Celiac disease is a hereditary autoimmune disease. For these reasons, being tested for celiac disease may be in your, and your family’s, best interest.
It’s true that ‘celiac disease’ and ‘gluten sensitivity’ both present similar symptoms, making the diagnosis process lengthy sometimes. However, the only way to diagnose celiac disease is with a blood test and, if warranted, a biopsy. Diagnosis based on symptoms alone will not be enough when celiac disease is suspected.
Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity are treated the same; a gluten-free diet. There are no medications to treat either condition. However, complications from untreated celiac disease (as mentioned above) may result in further treatment.
Once a gluten-free diet is followed for several weeks, both people with celiac disease and people who have gluten sensitivity will feel relief from their symptoms. If they return to a diet with gluten, the symptoms will return.
Some of the symptoms that present for both celiac disease and gluten sensitivity are as follows:
- abdominal pain
- bloating and gas
- skin rash
- mouth sores
- numb feet and/or hands
- weight loss
- weight gain
- poor growth
- bone fractures
- thinning tooth enamel or discoloration
You can see why diagnosing celiac disease can take years. These symptoms may be explained away in many different ways. But, what’s important to understand is that if you suffer more than a few of these symptoms, and they are persistent, you will want to talk to your doctor or other health professional.
Is it important to know whether you have celiac disease or have gluten sensitivity? If these symptoms are new to you, and avoiding gluten makes the symptoms disappear, you can discuss this with your doctor to see if you have all the information you need to start a gluten-free lifestyle.
However, if these symptoms have been plaguing you for some time, or if you have any conditions outside of these symptoms, you want to ask your doctor to test you for celiac disease.
Since celiac disease is hereditary and it does cause small intestine damage, having a diagnosis may make you and your family more aware of the risks. That knowledge may also be what you need to stay focused and vigilant with your health and the health of your family.
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