Celiac Disease: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment Options

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder triggered by gluten, causing intestinal inflammation and nutrient malabsorption. Learn about symptoms, causes, testing, and treatment options.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder. It’s triggered by eating gluten, a protein in wheat, barley, and rye.1 For those with celiac disease, consuming gluten makes their immune system react too much. This reaction damages the villi in their small intestine.

This harm reduces the intestine’s ability to absorb nutrients from food. It causes malabsorption and a mix of symptoms.2 Symptoms can affect the digestive system, as well as other parts of the body. If celiac disease is not treated, it can lead to serious health issues. These include malnutrition, weakened bones, problems related to reproduction, lactose intolerance, various types of cancer, and issues with the nervous system.

Key Takeaways

  • Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder triggered by the consumption of gluten.
  • Damage to the small intestine lining impairs nutrient absorption, leading to a range of symptoms.
  • Celiac disease can have both digestive and non-digestive symptoms.
  • Untreated celiac disease can result in serious complications, including malnutrition, bone weakening, and cancer.
  • A gluten-free diet is the primary treatment for managing celiac disease.

Understanding Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is a genetic3 autoimmune issue. It reacts to the gluten protein.4 People with this condition, when they eat gluten, their body’s defense system fights the small intestine’s membrane, harming it. This damage affects the intestine’s ability to gather nutrients from food. It causes problems like malabsorption and a lack of necessary nutrients.3 The damage also changes the intestine’s structure. The villi, tiny projections that help the body absorb nutrients, get harmed and flattened. This further reduces the intestine’s functional area.

What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is an inherited4 autoimmune disorder. It reacts to the3 protein gluten. About4 2 million people in the U.S. have it. And around4 1% of people worldwide face this condition.

How Celiac Disease Affects the Body

For those with celiac disease, eating3 gluten triggers a false alarm in the immune system. It generates antibodies that mistakenly attack the intestine’s lining. This3 harm impairs nutrient absorption, leading to deficiencies. Also, the3 villi that aid in absorbing nutrients get damaged, reducing the intestine’s ability even more.

Symptoms of Celiac Disease

Celiac disease shows up in many ways, including [Digestive Symptoms], [Non-Digestive Symptoms], and [Pediatric Symptoms]. Adults often have issues like bloating, chronic diarrhea, and constipation. They might also deal with gas, lactose problems, and stomach pain.3 Other symptoms could be anemia, skin rashes, and mouth ulcers.3

Digestive Symptoms in Adults

Common [Digestive Symptoms] of celiac disease in grown-ups are bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. They may also have gas, and struggle with certain foods due to lactose intolerance. Stomach pain is another symptom.3

Non-Digestive Symptoms in Adults

Adults with celiac disease could also face other issues. These might include anemia, joint pain, and fatigue. They could even experience skin problems like rashes or ulcers.3

Symptoms in Children

Kids with celiac disease might show different signs than adults. They may feel nauseous, have a swollen belly, and deal with constipation. Their stools might smell bad. Some could have a hard time gaining weight, feel tired, and have problems with their teeth.3

Dermatitis Herpetiformis

Another indicator of celiac disease is [Dermatitis Herpetiformis], a rare skin problem.1 It mainly shows up in the skin, affecting about 2-3% of kids with celiac disease. In adults, the rate is higher, at 10-20%.1

Dermatitis Herpetiformis

Symptom TypePrevalence in AdultsPrevalence in Children
[Digestive Symptoms]Common, including bloating, diarrhea, constipation, gas, lactose intolerance, and abdominal pain.3More likely to experience nausea, vomiting, swollen belly, constipation, and foul-smelling stools.3
[Non-Digestive Symptoms]May include anemia, bone density issues, dermatitis herpetiformis, mouth ulcers, headaches, fatigue, joint pain, and neurological problems.3More likely to have failure to thrive, anemia, and dental enamel defects.3
[Dermatitis Herpetiformis]Occurs in 10-20% of adults with untreated celiac disease.1Occurs in 2-3% of children with celiac disease.1

Causes and Risk Factors

Celiac disease comes from both genetic and environmental factors, like gluten exposure. It’s linked with specific gene types, HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8, seen in around 30% of people.2 But, not everyone with these genes gets the disease.

Genetic Predisposition

Eating foods with gluten starts an immune system attack in the gut of those at risk.2 Things like what you ate as a baby, tummy bugs, and changes in gut bugs might also affect your chances. But, we don’t fully get how these work.3

Role of Gluten

For people with celiac disease, their body sees gluten as a threat. The fight leads to gut harm, stopping nutrients from being absorbed right. This causes many symptoms and problems.2

Other Potential Factors

Things in the world around us, like how we were fed as babies, tummy bugs, and changes in gut bugs, might have a say in celiac disease too. We’re still trying to figure out how.3

Complications of Untreated Celiac Disease

If you ignore celiac disease, it can cause many health issues. You might not absorb nutrients well, leading to problems like malnutrition, anemia, and loss of weight.5 This also affects how your body takes in calcium and vitamin D. This can make your bones weaker, causing osteomalacia in kids and osteoporosis in grown-ups.5

Untreated celiac disease could make it hard to have children. It might cause problems like not starting your period when you should, or losing a pregnancy.5 It can also make you not tolerate dairy well, leading to lactose intolerance.5

People with untreated celiac disease might also face a higher chance of getting certain cancers, like intestinal lymphoma and small bowel cancer.5 It’s been connected to issues with the nervous system too. This could cause seizures, nerve damage, and problems with thinking. This might be because of missing essential vitamins and minerals or issues with the immune system.5

Malnutrition and Weight LossNot getting enough nutrients can lead to deficiencies, anemia, and losing weight.5
Bone WeakeningTrouble absorbing calcium and vitamin D can soften children’s bones (osteomalacia) and make adults’ bones weaker (osteoporosis).5
Reproductive IssuesCeliac disease might cause issues with having kids, late starts in puberty, and a higher chance of losing a baby.5
Lactose IntoleranceWhen the small intestine is damaged, it can’t handle dairy well.5
Cancer RiskNot treating celiac disease can raise your chances of certain cancers, like intestinal lymphoma and small bowel cancer.5
Nervous System ConditionsCeliac disease is tied to brain and nerve problems like seizures, nerve damage, and thinking troubles.5
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These risks show why it’s vital to catch celiac disease early and stick to a gluten-free diet. Not taking care of it can really hurt your health and life quality.

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is a long-lasting immune system issue. It mainly targets your small intestine. This happens when you eat foods with gluten, from wheat, barley, and rye.3 For those with [Celiac Disease], their immune system sees gluten as harmful. It strikes the lining of the small intestine, harming it.6 This makes it hard for the body to absorb nutrients well. A range of symptoms and health issues can follow.

Celiac Disease

Around 1% of people in Europe and North America have celiac disease.6 If a close family member has it, your chance to get it jumps to 10%.6 Almost all people diagnosed with [Celiac Disease] carry a specific gene mutation.6 It’s more common in people with specific chromosomal disorders and autoimmune diseases.6 More females than males tend to have celiac disease.6

The immune system reacts to gluten and causes celiac disease.3 Most grown-ups with [Celiac Disease] face symptoms not tied to digestion. Yet, kids often have trouble with their stomachs.3 Having family with the disease, along with certain medical conditions, can up your risk.3 If not treated, celiac disease can lead to many serious health issues. That includes problems with bones, making babies, and even cancer.3 Some people may not react well to a gluten-free diet. This is uncommon but can happen.3

If celiac disease runs in your family, you might get it too.7 Conditions like Down syndrome can also make you more likely to develop it.7 [Celiac Disease] is more common in White people and in women than men.7 Children often have stomach issues because of it.7 Key signs are feeling bloated and having a lot of diarrhea.7 Losing weight if you’re an adult or not growing much as a kid could mean you have it.7 This disease shows up in many ways, from feeling tired to having skin problems.7 Left untreated, celiac disease can cause serious health trouble over time.7

Diagnosis of Celiac Disease

To diagnose celiac disease, doctors use blood tests, endoscopy and biopsy, and genetic tests8. Blood tests check for specific antibodies reacting to gluten8. An endoscopy looks at the small intestine, and a biopsy confirms damage8. Genetic tests find certain genes linked to celiac disease, too8. Always talk to a doctor before going gluten-free. It might affect test results8.

Blood Tests

Doctors use blood tests most often for celiac diagnosis8. These tests find high levels of certain antibodies if you have untreated celiac disease8. They look for blood antibodies reacting to gluten9.

Endoscopy and Biopsy

For a closer look, doctors might do an endoscopy and take biopsies of the small intestine8. These tests see if there are celiac-related changes in the small intestine9.

Genetic Testing

Genetic tests can check for gene variants related to celiac disease by blood or cheek swab8. The presence of certain genes can help diagnose or rule out celiac disease9. Most people with confirmed celiac disease have these gene mutations6.

Treatment: The Gluten-Free Diet

The main way to treat celiac disease is to eat no gluten for life. Gluten is in wheat, barley, and rye. People with celiac look for gluten in all foods and avoid cross-contamination.

If they are careful with their diet, their intestines can heal. This makes the disease easier to manage. Symptoms and other health issues might get better if they stick to their diet.

Eliminating Gluten from the Diet

A10 gluten-free diet is a must for those with celiac. This means saying ‘no’ to wheat, barley, and rye. Even certain grains like triticale and farina must be avoided unless they are labeled gluten-free.

Thankfully, there are many gluten-free options available in stores and even in restaurants. But, always check if these foods are safe for celiac sufferers. Some products might still have gluten.

Reading Food Labels

Checking food labels is very important. Many packaged food and drinks may have hidden gluten. Beers, candies, and sauces are some examples. Always scan the ingredients for any gluten clues.

Even your daily vitamins and meds could contain gluten. It’s wise to consult a pharmacist to be sure. They can help you find safe options.

Cross-Contamination Concerns

Cross-contamination is a big worry too. It happens when gluten-free food touches gluten. To avoid this, use separate kitchen tools for cooking.

Every detail matters, as even a tiny bit of gluten can harm someone with celiac. By taking these steps, people with celiac can stay safer.

Remember, going gluten-free doesn’t mean you can eat unlimited amounts of food. Keep an eye on your portions for a healthier life.10

Managing Non-Responsive Celiac Disease

Some people with celiac disease find a gluten-free diet doesn’t work for them. This is called non-responsive celiac disease. It might happen because they’re still eating gluten by mistake or have other health problems.11

Identifying Dietary Contamination

It’s vital to spot and fix sources of gluten in the food, like shared cooking tools or hidden gluten in products. A study in 2007 showed that 36 percent of those with non-responsive celiac disease accidentally ate gluten.11

Addressing Other Conditions

Medical professionals also need to check for and treat other issues. These could include too much bacteria in the small intestine, not enough enzymes from the pancreas, or trouble digesting lactose. These problems could keep celiac disease symptoms going.12 About 30 percent of people with celiac disease might not respond to the diet. Some studies think it’s closer to 50 percent when looking at those with ongoing gut damage.11

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Some people might develop a severe type of non-responsive celiac disease called refractory celiac disease. It’s not common, affecting 1 in 100 peep with celiac. But the outlook can be very bad, especially for those with Type II.11 Type II can lead to harmful immune cells moving beyond the gut wall, which can be very dangerous.11

Most times, this happens to older adults who’ve had symptoms for years but weren’t diagnosed. They may only find out about celiac disease after serious health issues show up. This severe form of the disease only appears if people have not been avoiding gluten for a long time.11

By tackling the causes of non-responsive celiac disease, healthcare teams can offer better care. This might help patients with celiac disease live healthier, enjoying a better quality of life.

Living with Celiac Disease

Living with celiac disease means making big changes to your life. You need to plan your meals well and cook carefully to avoid gluten.10 This also means you have to learn how to cook meals that are gluten-free. You’ll check food labels a lot and need to watch out for ways gluten can get mixed in with your food.10

Meal Planning and Preparation

People with celiac disease must be very careful when they plan and make their meals. They have to know where hidden gluten can be found, like in beer, some candy, and even some medications.10 Telling apart kitchen stuff, talking to cooks at places to eat, and reading medicine labels right are crucial steps to staying gluten-free.10

Dining Out and Travel

Eating away from home and traveling are harder for those with celiac. To stay safe, they need to clearly explain their food needs and be sure the food doesn’t have gluten.10 Good planning and looking into places ahead of time can make dining out or traveling much smoother without risking their health.10

Support Groups and Resources

For help, joining support groups and using educational materials is a great idea. They offer info, tips, and a community feeling for everyone following a gluten-free way of life.10


Celiac Disease in Children

Celiac disease is a concern for kids too, showing up differently than in grown-ups. Its symptoms in children often involve tummy problems like throwing up, long-lasting diarrhea, and a big, bloated stomach. Kids might not grow or develop as they should. They also face issues like weak teeth and slow progress. Cutting out gluten completely can be hard for young ones. Many favorite foods, like bread and snacks, contain gluten. Checking on a child’s growth and health is very important. This makes sure they get the right nutrients to grow well.

Symptoms in Children

Kids with celiac disease might feel sick in their stomach often, throw up, and have belly pain. They may not grow or develop the way they’re supposed to. They could also have weak teeth and learn more slowly. Their signs might be different from adults, so spotting it early in children is crucial. Recognizing and treating celiac disease in kids is very important for their health.13

Dietary Challenges

Sticking to a gluten-free diet is tough for children with celiac disease. Many foods kids usually like, such as breads and snacks, have gluten.13 Teaching children and their families why a gluten-free diet matters, how to read food labels, and how to find tasty gluten-free foods is key. Supporting and offering help to families can make the switch to gluten-free living easier for children.

Growth and Development Monitoring

Regular checks on a child’s growth and development are vital. This is to make sure they get all the nutrients they need to grow and stay healthy. Kids with celiac disease could have a hard time absorbing minerals like calcium and iron. This could lead to other health problems.13 Routine check-ups, growth tests, and lab work can catch any nutrient shortage early. This allows for quick help and better health and growth for the child. Keeping a close eye is key to prevent any severe issues from untreated celiac disease in kids.

Preventing Celiac Disease

The causes of celiac disease are not fully known. However, research shows some ways might prevent it.14 For kids with a family history, starting gluten foods between 4 to 6 months old might lower the risk.15 Also, how long a baby is breastfed and when gluten gets added to their diet could help. But, more proof is needed.15 Scientists keep studying to find ways to stop or slow down celiac disease.

Early Introduction of Gluten

Introducing gluten foods early, like between 4 to 6 months, could lower a child’s celiac disease risk.15 This quick gluten exposure might help their body get used to it, preventing the harmful reactions seen in celiac disease.15

Breastfeeding and Infant Feeding

Research looks at breastfeeding and when to start gluten as possible preventions for celiac disease.15 Although not sure, some evidence suggests breastfeeding could help. Maybe it’s because the baby gets a bit of gluten from the mother’s food.15 But, the best time to start gluten and how leaves scientists with more questions.

Celiac Disease and Associated Conditions

Celiac disease is often linked with other autoimmune disorders. People with it are more likely to get type 1 diabetes, thyroid issues, and other disorders.16 If you have one autoimmune condition, you might get others because they share similar causes.17

Autoimmune Disorders

Research shows that people with celiac disease often have other autoimmune problems. They’re more likely to have Addison’s disease, arthritis, and conditions like autoimmune hepatitis.16 They also face a higher risk of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and type 1 diabetes.16

But here’s an interesting fact: having another autoimmune issue may raise your risk of celiac disease. For instance, Crohn’s disease and Down syndrome, among others, may coincide with celiac disease.16 There’s a notable link between celiac disease and primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC), calling for regular screenings in these cases.16

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Nutrient Deficiencies

Celiac disease can cause nutrient deficiencies. The body might not absorb vitamins and minerals well. This can lead to lacking important nutrients like iron and calcium.16

Such shortages might bring health issues. That’s why spotting and treating celiac disease early is crucial. It helps avoid further complications.

Research and Advances in Celiac Disease

Research into celiac disease is always moving forward, helping us understand more about this condition. New tests are being studied. These include better blood tests,18 and looking at genes and inside the body with cameras.

New Diagnostic Methods

The Global Prevalence of Celiac Disease: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis shows that 1% of the world has it.18 So, finding it early and treating it right is really important.

Potential Treatments

There’s more than just a gluten-free diet being checked as treatments. Some ideas are using enzyme pills, special drugs, and ways to help the gut heal.19 Many companies, like Allero, AMYRA Biotech AG, and more, are working on these.

Ongoing Clinical Trials

Tests are being done to see if these new treatments are safe and work well. These could mean better lives for those with celiac disease.19 There’s a lot of new treatments being looked at, from drugs to therapies using cells. This offers hope to those with the disease.


Celiac disease is a complicated autoimmune issue. It needs careful treatment with a gluten-free diet for life.20 About 1% of people worldwide have it. Yet, many people avoid gluten even if they’re not required to. This can be harmful because it might lead to missing out on important nutrients.20 Knowing what signs to look for, what causes it, and the dangers it brings is key. It helps find it early and treat it correctly.20

The focus is on the gluten-free diet for handling celiac disease. But, experts keep looking for new ways to help.21 They found many adults might have celiac not know it yet. This shows how necessary it is to find better ways to diagnose it. And, it’s a big deal in places like Italy and the U.S. because it’s quite common.21 Also, they’ve learned a lot about how genes play a part. This could mean finding ways to stop it before it even starts, making life better for those with celiac.


What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder. It gets triggered by eating gluten. Gluten is a protein in wheat, barley, or rye. For those with celiac, eating gluten causes their immune system to attack the body. This damages the small intestine’s villi, which help digest food.

How does Celiac Disease affect the body?

With celiac disease, the body can’t absorb nutrients well. This leads to many problems. They include digestive issues like bloating and pain, or non-digestive problems. If not treated, it could lead to severe issues like malnutrition and even certain cancers.

What are the symptoms of Celiac Disease?

Adults may have stomach problems or feel tired all the time. Kids might throw up and not get big and strong like they should. Both groups might have some of these issues, showing how tricky this disease can be to spot.

What causes Celiac Disease?

It’s a mix of having certain genes and eating gluten-filled foods. If you have the right DNA and eat gluten, your immune system gets angry. This attack hurts the intestines, making it hard for your body to take in nutrients from food.

What are the potential complications of untreated Celiac Disease?

Not treating celiac disease can cause many serious problems. These could be as bad as certain cancers, or issues with making babies. You might have trouble with milk, your bones could get weak, and some can develop problems with the brain or nerves.

How is Celiac Disease diagnosed?

Doctors use a mix of tests to find out if you have celiac disease. Blood work can show signs of the disease. A tiny camera can look at your intestines and take a sample to check. They can also look at your genes to see if you might get the disease.

How is Celiac Disease treated?

The main treatment is not eating gluten. This means cutting out wheat, barley, and rye from your diet. It’s a lifelong change. You need to be careful with food labels and avoid where gluten might sneak in.

What are the challenges of living with Celiac Disease?

It changes a lot about how you eat and live. Planning meals and being sure food is safe can be hard. Going out to eat or on trips needs extra thought to make sure there’s no gluten.

How does Celiac Disease affect children?

Kids with celiac might not feel well and can have tummy troubles. It can be tough for them to grow strong and healthy. Sticking to a special diet, especially for foods they love, can be a challenge.

Can Celiac Disease be prevented?

Early feeding practices might lower the risk for some babies. Starting gluten foods between 4 to 6 months, along with breastfeeding, could help. More research is needed to be sure, though.

What other conditions are associated with Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease can come with other immune system issues. These might affect the pancreas, thyroid, or joints. It can also lead to missing important vitamins and minerals your body needs.

What are the latest advancements in Celiac Disease research?

Scientists are working on better tests and treatments. They want to find ways to fight celiac disease that go beyond just avoiding gluten. There are new ideas and drugs being tested in studies to help those with the disease.

Source Links

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  2. https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/celiac-disease/celiac-disease
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/celiac-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20352220
  4. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/celiac-disease/definition-facts
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  11. https://www.beyondceliac.org/celiac-disease/refractory-nonresponsive-celiac-disease/
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7019917/
  13. https://www.childrenshospital.org/conditions/celiac-disease
  14. https://www.lompocvmc.com/blogs/2022/august/what-causes-celiac-disease-and-can-it-be-prevent/
  15. https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/mayo-clinic-q-and-a-no-proven-way-to-prevent-celiac-disease/
  16. https://celiac.org/about-celiac-disease/related-conditions/autoimmune-disorders/
  17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3741914/
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  19. https://celiac.org/about-celiac-disease/future-therapies-for-celiac-disease/
  20. https://bio.libretexts.org/Courses/Manchester_Community_College_(MCC)/BIOL_106:_Essentials_of_Anatomy_and_Physiology_(Anzalone)/12:_The_Digestive_System/12.08:_Case_Study_Conclusion-__Celiac_and_Chapter_Summary
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