Conditions We Treat
Once thought to be a rare childhood disorder, millions of people are now diagnosed with celiac disease worldwide, and an even greater number are undiagnosed and suffering because of it.
What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune condition. With autoimmune diseases, a person’s own immune system attacks a healthy part of the body by mistake. Celiac disease mainly affects the small intestine, but it can impact other parts of the body, too.
People with celiac disease cannot eat gluten because it damages the lining of the small intestine and affects digestion. Gluten is the general name for the protein found in wheat, rye and barley.
Damage to the small intestine can cause inflammation. This irritation makes it more difficult to absorb or take in vitamins and minerals. Strictly avoiding gluten can help reverse the damage and control symptoms, such as gas, bloating, diarrhea and constipation. But following a strict gluten-free diet (GFD) is tough for many people, and not always effective at treating symptoms. There are complications, too, as people with celiac disease have a slightly higher risk for certain types of gastrointestinal cancer as well as non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Sometimes it is difficult to diagnose celiac disease. Our team is very skilled at ruling out other conditions with symptoms similar to celiac disease. Genetic testing, blood work and endoscopy help diagnose celiac disease.
During an endoscopy, doctors use an endoscope (a thin, flexible tube with a light and camera that is inserted through the mouth) to view the esophagus, stomach and the first part of the small intestine. Through the endoscope, they take tissue samples (biopsies) from the small intestine to confirm whether you have celiac disease.
Living Gluten Free
At present, a life-long gluten-free diet (GFD) is the only treatment for celiac disease. There are no other medications or treatments available, although doctors in the Celiac Center at BIDMC continue to lead research in new, non-dietary therapies. Our experienced dietitians can help you adjust to a gluten-free lifestyle.
Learn more: CeliacNow
- Diagnosing and treating celiac disease
- Nutrition consults
- Tips for healthy eating on a gluten-free diet.
Celiac Disease Clinical Trials and Research
The Celiac Center at BIDMC is a major site for celiac disease research worldwide. Our physicians conduct research into all aspects of celiac disease:
- Difficult-to-treat cases (refractory celiac disease)
- Metabolic issues (how the body converts food into energy)
- Screening for celiac disease
- Biomarkers (signs of the disease)
Lead Enrolling Site
BIDMC is the lead enrolling site, and on the Scientific Advisory Board, for every celiac-related therapeutic clinical trial in the country. As the lead enrolling site, BIDMC plays a central role in designing and completing national and international studies.
Some of the most exciting clinical trials currently underway include:
- A vaccine for celiac disease
- Agents that prevent gluten from reaching the digestive tract
- Enzyme cocktails that break down gluten before it reaches the small intestine
Your physician can help you determine whether participating in a clinical trial is appropriate for you. If you are interested in research taking place at the Celiac Center, please call 617-667-8397.