Celiac Disease

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Dr. DiMarino discusses celiac disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease of the small intestine. An autoimmune disease is 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 and rye and, by extension, in a wide variety of everyday foods.

Celiac disease is often undetected or misdiagnosed, in part because it has symptoms that mimic those of many other digestive diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. In fact, most people with celiac disease are unaware they have the condition. Specialists of  the Jefferson Celiac Center have extensive experience in diagnosing celiac disease and helping adults and children manage this lifelong condition.

How is Celiac Disease Diagnosed?

Blood tests can be useful in diagnosing the disease to determine if elevated levels of certain antibodies – that is, proteins that target the body's own cells or tissues – are present. The types of blood tests we perform are:

  • Anti-endomysial antibodies (EMA) - IgG
  • Anti-tissue transglutaminase antibodies (tTG) - IgA and IgG
  • Total IgA level

If the blood tests and symptoms suggest celiac disease, the next step is typically an upper endoscopy with small bowel biopsy. Through this procedure, tiny pieces of tissue are removed from the small intestine to check for damage to the villi (the tiny, finger-like protrusions of the small intestine). Jefferson's Endoscopy Unit continues to be one of the largest and busiest academic centers on the East Coast where more than 13,000 endoscopic procedures are performed each year.

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.

Making an appointment

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.

For questions about celiac disease and the gluten-free diet, please call 215-9CELIAC (215-923-5422).