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Celiac disease

Celiac (SEE-lee-ak) disease is an autoimmune disease that affects the digestive system. People who have celiac disease cannot tolerate gluten, a substance found in wheat, rye, and barley. Gluten may also be in other products like medicines, vitamins, and even the glue on stamps and envelopes. When people with celiac disease eat foods or use products that have gluten in them, the immune system responds by damaging the lining of the small intestine. When this happens, the body can't absorb all the nutrients it needs. This can lead to malnutrition, anemia, osteoporosis, and other problems.

Symptoms of celiac disease include:

  • Gas
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • Feeling very tired
  • Becoming irritable or depressed
  • Weight loss
  • A very itchy skin rash with blisters
  • Not being able to get pregnant or repeated miscarriage

Celiac disease is genetic, meaning that it runs in families. Blood tests can help your doctor find out if you have the disease. Your doctor may also need to examine a small piece of tissue from your small intestine. The only treatment for celiac disease is to eat a diet free of gluten.

Adjusting to a gluten-free diet can seem overwhelming and greatly affect quality of life at first. But a dietitian, doctor, and support group can help those newly diagnosed with menu planning, shopping, and even dining out. Over time, this change in lifestyle becomes second nature.

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Content last updated: September 22, 2009.

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