About This Condition
Celiac disease (also called gluten enteropathy) is an intestinal disorder that results from an abnormal immunological reaction to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and, to a lesser extent, oats.
In addition to damaging the lining of the small intestine, celiac disease can sometimes affect other parts of the body, such as the pancreas (increasing the risk of diabetes), the thyroid gland (increasing the risk of thyroid disease), and the nervous system (increasing the risk of peripheral neuropathies and other neurological disorders). Occasionally, such damage occurs only in one or more of these parts of the body in the absence of damage to the intestines.
Celiac disease may not cause symptoms in some people. However, others may have a history of frequent diarrhea; pale, foul-smelling, bulky stools; abdominal pain, gas, and bloating; weight loss; fatigue; canker sores; muscle cramps; delayed growth or short stature; bone and joint pain; seizures; painful skin rash; or infertility. Microscopic examination of the small-intestinal lining reveals severe damage, especially in the jejunum (the central portion of the small intestines). People with untreated celiac disease may eventually experience malaise and weight loss and have an increased risk of developing anemia, osteoporosis, osteomalacia, and certain types of cancer. In addition to physical symptoms, some people may experience emotional disturbances, including feelings of anxiety and depression.
Strict adherence to a gluten-free diet is essential, although doctors are questioning the need for all celiac patients to avoid oats. People with severe damage to intestinal tissue may be prescribed intravenous nutritional supplements in order to replace unabsorbed nutrients.