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The Different Symptoms of Celiac Disease

written by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 10/8/2010

Celiac disease is an inherited autoimmune disorder where the patient cannot properly digest gluten. Learn the malabsorption and neurological symptoms of celiac disease.

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    Introduction

    Celiac is a digestive disease the affects the small intestine: when the disease is untreated or undiagnosed, the villi (the projections) in the intestine are flattened, preventing nutrients from being absorbed properly. MedlinePlus says that celiac disease is also an inherited autoimmune disorder, which is diagnosed more often in women and Caucasians. Symptoms can start at any time during the patient's life. Patients cannot eat foods that contain gluten, such as breads and cereals. The HealthNow Medical Center notes that wheat, wheat germ, wheat grass, triticale, spelt, semolina, rye, barley, bulgur, seitan, matzo, karmut, couscous, farina, and graham flour all contain gluten.

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    Malabsorption Symptoms of Celiac Disease

    MedlinePlus points out that not all celiac disease patients have symptoms, and they vary per patient. The malabsorption, or gastrointestinal, symptoms occur when gluten foods are ingested. For example, the patient may have abdominal pain or indigestion. The patient may also have bloating and constipation. A decreased appetite and unexplained weight loss is possible, though MedlinePlus notes that some patients may be overweight at time of diagnosis. Diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting are other gastrointestinal symptoms; the diarrhea can be chronic or occasional. Some celiac disease patients also develop an intolerance to lactose; however, this symptom is no longer a problem when the disorder is treated, and may not need to be restricted from the patient's diet.

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    Neurological Symptoms of Celiac Disease

    Another group of symptoms of celiac disease, neurological symptoms, often go unnoticed. Some of the symptoms can be minor, such as fatigue, but other symptoms can be more severe. MedlinePlus explains that celiac disease can cause behavioral changes, such as irritability, and mood problems, such as depression. Another serious sign is a seizure, which is abnormal electrical activity in the brain that can cause changes in consciousness, sensation, and movement. The MayoClinic.com notes that neuropathy can also occur, which results from damage to the nerves; symptoms include tingling in the legs and feet. If celiac disease is left untreated, the neurological symptoms can become worse. According to the MayoClinic.com, that neuropathy can lead to decreased sensation, where the patient cannot detect temperature changes. The lack of feeling can also caused infections, since the patient will not be able to feel when an injury occurs.

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    Diet for Celiac Disease

    Celiac disease is an easily treatable disease that does not affect a patient's longevity. Avoiding foods with gluten can alleviate the malabsorption and neurological symptoms of celiac disease; however, the patient will need to stick to this restrictive diet for the rest of her life. MedlinePlus warns that people who believe they have celiac disease should not start a gluten-free diet until after official diagnosis, as the change in diet would interfere in testing. The HealthNow Medical Center lists amaranth, nut flours, rice, arrowroot, corn, buckwheat, soy, millet, potato, sorghum, quinoa, garfava, tapioca, flax, tef, and beans as gluten-free foods. However, celiac disease patients need to be vigilant about reading food labels carefully: many foods can contain gluten, which could cause symptoms to reappear. Since the flattening of villi in the small intestine causes issues with nutrient absorption, the patient's doctor may also recommend vitamin and mineral supplements to compensate for nutritional deficits.

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    References

    MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: Celiac Disease (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000233.htm)

    MayoClinic.com: Celiac Disease (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/celiac-disease/DS00319)

    HealthNow Medical Center: Foods Containing Gluten (http://www.healthnowmedical.com/info/gluten_foods.html)

    MayoClinic.com: Peripheral Neuropathy--Complications (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/peripheral-neuropathy/DS00131/DSECTION=complications)