Center for Digestive Diseases

UNM Hospitals Center
for Digestive Diseases

1001 Martin Luther King Ave. NE
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87106

(505)272-2530 or

UNMH: (505)272-6839
CDD: (505)925-7849

Celiac disease

What is Celiac disease?

Celiac disease is a condition in which the immune system responds abnormally to a protein called gluten, which can cause damage to the lining of the small intestine. Gluten is found in wheat, rye, barley, and a multitude of prepared foods. Thus, damage to the lining of the small intestines can lead to difficulty absorbing important nutrients; this problem is referred to as malabsorption. Although celiac disease cannot be cured, avoiding gluten usually stops the damage to the intestinal lining and the malabsorption that results. Celiac disease can occur in people of any age and it affects both genders.

What are the symptoms of Celiac disease?

Some people with celiac disease have no symptoms. However, even without symptoms, patient may not be absorbing nutrients adequately, which can be detected with blood tests. Some people have bothersome symptoms of celiac disease, including diarrhea, weight loss, abdominal discomfort, excessive gas, and other signs and symptoms caused by vitamin and nutrient deficiencies.

What causes Celiac disease?

It is not clear what causes celiac disease. A combination of environmental and genetic factors are important since celiac disease occurs widely in Europe, North and South Americas, Australia, North Africa, the Middle East and in South Asia.

How is Celiac disease diagnosed?

There are few tests to diagnose celiac disease including:

  • Blood test: A blood test looks for proteins that some people make after eating gluten, called antibodies. Patient should eat normally before taking the blood test.
  • Biopsy: To do a biopsy, the doctor will put a thin tube with a tiny camera down the patient’s throat. When the tube is in the small intestine, the doctor will take a small sample of tissue. That way the tissue can be examined under a microscope and see if eating gluten has damaged the intestine.

What is the treatment for Celiac disease?

The treatment is to stop eating gluten completely. This may be hard to do at first. Patient will need to avoid rye, wheat, barley, and maybe oats. These ingredients appear in many common foods, including bread, pasta, pastries, and cereal in addition to many sauces, spreads, and condiments.

Patient should also avoid milk, cheese, and other dairy foods at first. These foods can be hard to break down. Patient will want to wait to eat these foods until after your intestines have a chance to heal.

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