CHICAGO – At least three million Americans have celiac disease, and many don’t even know it.
The average duration of diagnosis for those experiencing symptoms of hereditary autoimmune disease is four years.
When a person with celiac disease consumes gluten contained in wheat, barley and rye, their immune system responds by attacking the small intestine and slowing down the absorption of nutrients in the body.
Since May is the month of celiac disease awareness, WGN News Now spoke with Dr. Rita Verma, head of pediatric gastroenterology at University of Chicago Celiac Disease Medical Centerabout the state.
Verma says it can affect any part of your body, and early diagnosis is important because people with celiac disease face long-term complications.
It can cause hair loss, thyroid problems, bone problems, liver disease, infertility, lymphoma, and cause growth and weight problems in children.
Common symptoms of celiac disease are below:
- bloating and pain
- chronic diarrhea
- pale, smelly or greasy stool
- iron deficiency anemia
- weight loss
- irritability and behavioral problems
- tooth enamel defects of permanent teeth
- growth retardation and puberty
- short stature
- inability to thrive
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- unexplained iron deficiency anemia
- pain in bones or joints
- osteoporosis or osteopenia (loss of bone mass)
- diseases of the liver and biliary tract (transaminitis, fatty liver disease, primary sclerosing cholangitis, etc.)
- depression or anxiety
- peripheral neuropathy (tingling, numbness or pain in the hands and feet)
- seizures or migraines
- missed monthly
- infertility or recurrent miscarriage
- canker sores inside the mouth
- herpetiform dermatitis (itchy skin)
Verma advised people to get tested for celiac disease if they have symptoms. The process involves a simple blood test that shows if you have more than normal levels of antibodies that view gluten as a threat.
She suggested that everyone who has a family member with celiac disease be screened because it is a genetic disease.
If you suspect you have celiac disease, Verma said you should consult your doctor before switching to a gluten-free diet. She also warns against believing that your diet is gluten-free just because it’s a fashionable and seemingly healthy thing. “A gluten-free diet is not always so healthy. It is deficient in some vitamins and cereals. So you may not do yourself a favor by sitting on a gluten-free diet if you don’t have celiac disease ”. she said.
Verma added that the food industry and restaurants still need additional education regarding gluten-free and cross-contamination. “You can make a gluten-free pizza pie, but if you made it in a place where flour is everywhere, you’ve contaminated it,” Verma said. “Or if you cut it with the same cutter as a regular pizza, there’s a problem.”
She invited people who need a gluten-free diet to work with a nutritionist and added that gluten-free foods on the market today are much better than many years ago.
For more information on celiac disease, contact Center for Celiac Disease, University of Chicago.
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