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Introduction to Celiac Disease

KEY POINTS:


  • Celiac disease is a disease that mainly affects the small intestine. It also affects many other parts of the body.
  • It is a genetic disease - it runs in families.
  • It can start at any age.
  • It is an autoimmune disease. The main job of the immune system is to protect us by fighting against disease. In celiac disease, a person's own immune system attacks a healthy part of the body by mistake.

  • In celiac disease, gluten causes damage to the small intestine.

    WHAT IS GLUTEN? Gluten is the general name for the protein found in wheat, rye and barley. People with celiac disease need to avoid eating these grains.

  • When the small intestine is damaged, it can get inflamed. This can make it more difficult to absorb or take in vitamins and minerals. 1
  • There are many symptoms of celiac disease. Some of the most common ones are gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, fatigue (being tired) and low vitamin and mineral levels. 2
  • The only treatment for celiac disease is to follow a gluten-free diet for life. 3 The gluten-free diet works very well to help you heal the small intestine and feel well. Visit Introduction to the Gluten-Free Diet to learn about which grains to eat and which to avoid.

TAKE HOME MESSAGES:

  • If you think you might have celiac disease, ask your doctor to test you. Testing is very simple.
  • Do not start the gluten-free diet before you talk to your doctor and get tested.
  • The gluten-free diet is very, very important for your health. Use the rest of this website to help you learn more about taking good care of yourself and eating well on the gluten-free diet.

References:

  1. National Institutes of Health Publication No. 08-4269 September 2008. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/celiac/. Accessed August 11, 2011.
  2. Kelly C. Common and Uncommon Presentations of Celiac Disease. In Real Life with Celiac Disease: Troubleshooting and Thriving Gluten-Free. Eds. Dennis M, Leffler D. AGA Press. Bethesda, MD, 2010.
  3. Green PH, Cellier C. Celiac disease. N Eng J Med. 2007;357(17):1731-43.

    Revision Date: 8-9-12
    Authors: Melinda Dennis, MS, RD, LDN and Annie Peer
    Editors: Suzanne Simpson, RD and Rupa Mukherjee, MD

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