Celiac disease is a hereditary autoimmune disease – a condition in which your body overreacts to substances or tissues that are normally present. In the case of celiac disease, the body cannot tolerate gluten – a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and a host of other foods. The condition damages the small intestine.
It affects 3 million Americans and is four times more common today than it was in 1950. Some people have gone undiagnosed for 10 years because celiac disease can resemble many other diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. The best way to keep your celiac disease under control is by following a strict, lifelong gluten-free diet.
How do I know if I have Celiac Disease?
Symptoms of celiac disease affect multiple systems of the body. There are nearly 300 signs and symptoms associated with the disease, making a diagnosis difficult for doctors. In some cases, patients are misdiagnosed with other conditions, like irritable bowel syndrome. The most common symptoms include abdominal bloating and pain, constipation, diarrhea, foul smelling and bulky stool, heartburn, nausea, vomiting and weight loss or weight gain. Some symptoms vary depending on the type of celiac disease:
Dermatitis Herpetiformis (DH) is the skin form of Celiac disease. People with this experience an extremely itchy rash that is triggered when gluten is eaten. Not all people with this type of celiac disease develop other symptoms. However, a positive diagnosis of DH through a biopsy of the skin indicates celiac disease. Treatments include a gluten-free diet and medication for the skin rash.
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) is another gluten-related disorder. NCGS not considered an autoimmune or allergic response to gluten. Instead, research has suggested that NCGS may affect up to 6 percent of the U.S. population. There are no diagnostic tests to confirm NCGS. However, the diagnosis is typically made after celiac disease and other conditions are ruled out. Adhering to a gluten-free diet is the best way to control NCGS.
How do I manage Celiac Disease?
If you are diagnosed with celiac disease, your Jefferson medical team will provide personalized care through a multifaceted approach that combines the expertise of our clinicians in gastroenterology, endocrinology, rheumatology and oncology, and nutritionists and dieticians to help you manage your disease and reduce its symptoms. Our registered dietitian is a celiac nutrition expert who will provide one-on-one counseling to promote an understanding of the effects of nutrition and how food impacts your health and well-being.
Many of the symptoms, complications and conditions associated with celiac may improve with a gluten-free diet – including dermatitis herpetiformis, neuropsychiatric problems and risk for future development of certain celiac-associated cancers, to name a few. Our dietician stays abreast of the latest stores, restaurants and manufacturers offering gluten-free products and will help you prepare your own personal dining out guide.
The Jefferson Celiac Center is Philadelphia's first adult center for the diagnosis and management of celiac disease. Our Center has been among only a handful participating in the testing of promising new orally administered drugs, including medications to decrease or block the absorption of gluten. There is great promise of achieving a medication to moderate celiac disease at the cellular level.
To schedule an appointment at the Jefferson Celiac Center, please call 1-800-JEFF-NOW, or call 215-9CELIAC (215-923-5422) for more questions about celiac disease and the gluten-free diet.