Celiac disease is a very common medical condition linked to the consumption of foods with gluten.
Although celiac disease or celiac disease dates back to the beginnings of agriculture, and therefore of civilization, in recent years there has been a striking increase in awareness about this disease, to the point that many professionals have warned of the risk of overdiagnosis associated with the low reliability of the tests.
In this article we will describe the main celiac symptoms and signs, which affect both the gastrointestinal system and other functions of the body. We will also talk about the causes of this disease and the ways in which it can be managed, despite the fact that there is no treatment that solves the alterations that underlie the symptoms.
What is celiac disease?
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder characterized by inflammation of the mucosa and shortening of the villi of the small intestine in response to the consumption of gluten, a set of proteins found in cereals such as wheat, oats, barley and rye.
It is a relatively unknown disorder in the general population; however, it is believed to affect 1 in 100 to 200 people to some degree. In this sense, it is important to bear in mind that the number of diagnoses is influenced by the strictness of the criteria used and by awareness of the disease.
Celiac disease can also be difficult to diagnose due to the fact that in many cases there are no symptoms or these are mild: many people with celiac disease report only mild gastrointestinal discomfort. It is believed that only about 20% of all cases of this disease are diagnosed, and that it affects women and Caucasians to a greater extent.
Main celiac symptoms
The autoimmune reactions characteristic of celiac disease interfere with the absorption of certain nutrients and can damage the lining of the intestine if the affected person consumes gluten on a regular basis. These problems manifest themselves in symptoms and signs such as feelings of fatigue, anemia, diarrhea, weight loss, and gas bloating.
In adults it is common for signs not associated with the digestive system to appear, in particular headaches, mouth ulcers, the appearance of rashes and itching of the skin, joint pain and a decrease in the density of the bones (osteoporosis ) and iron deficiency anemia. Lesions in the nervous system can also occur.
On the other hand, when the affected person is less than 2 years old, the most significant signs are the appearance of chronic vomiting and diarrhea, the decrease in interest in food, the swelling of the belly and the atrophy of the muscles. Diarrhea, constipation, neurological symptoms, headaches, or lack of coordination are characteristic of older children.
In addition to the symptoms that we have described, when celiac disease occurs in girls and young children, digestive disorders can cause delays and deficits in physical development that sometimes leave long-term sequelae. These complications are related to vomiting, diarrhea, poor appetite, and problems absorbing nutrients.
Causes of this disease
Lesions in the villi that cover and protect the small intestine, as well as the inflammation of this segment of the digestive system, alter its ability to absorb certain types of essential nutrients for the proper functioning of the body. In particular, they interfere with the uptake of vitamins and minerals.
Although the specific cause of celiac disease is unknown, it is known that it appears as a consequence of a combination of genetic and other environmental factors. Thus, some people are biologically predisposed to react negatively when consuming gluten, and by doing so more or less regularly they could suffer intestinal damage.
Since celiac disease has a significant genetic component, it is not surprising that the likelihood of developing this disease is higher in people with close affected relatives. The same is true of other risk factors influenced by heredity, such as type 1 diabetes mellitus and diseases that affect the thyroid.
On the other hand, various alterations that affect the gastrointestinal system can favor the appearance of signs of celiac disease. Thus, the disease often begins to manifest itself as a consequence of viral infections in the intestines, pregnancy and childbirth, invasive surgeries and periods of very intense stress.
Treatment and management
At present, there is no known treatment capable of correcting the disorders underlying celiac disease. That is why the intervention in these cases usually has the objective of preventing or minimizing symptoms, and consists mainly of behavioral aspects and the change of eating habits.
Therefore, celiac disease is managed by avoiding consuming foods and drinks with gluten. Some of the most common are bread, pastries, Italian pasta, beer and chocolate. Celiac sufferers are advised to make sure they buy gluten-free foods; This is especially relevant in the case of manufactured products.
People with celiac disease can greatly benefit from a gluten-free diet. This not only prevents the appearance of symptoms and reduces the severity of those that are already present, but also helps the self-healing processes of the gastrointestinal system to take place correctly, alleviating the disease in the long term.