Celiac disease is an immune reaction to eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. If you have celiac disease, eating gluten triggers an immune response in your small intestine that, over time, can cause damaging inflammation to the intestinal lining.
Classic signs of celiac disease are diarrhea and weight loss, but many people experience few, if any, digestive symptoms. Other signs of the disease include:
- Fatigue or paleness (resulting from anemia)
- Loss of bone density (osteoporosis)
- Itchy, blistery skin rash (dermatitis herpetiformis)
The cause of celiac disease isn't known. When the body's immune system overreacts to gluten, the reaction damages the small intestine lining. It often goes undiagnosed, but the National Institutes of Health estimates about 1 in 141 people in the U.S. have celiac disease. It can affect anyone, but tends to be more common in people who have type 1 diabetes, microscopic colitis or who have a family member with celiac.
There are various tests and procedures used to diagnose celiac disease, including:
- Blood tests. Elevated levels of certain antibodies in your blood can detect celiac disease even if you have few or no symptoms.
- Endoscopy. Your provider may order an endoscopy to view your small intestine.
A gluten-free diet is the only treatment for celiac disease and is essential in successful management. It's important to be tested before trying a gluten-free diet. Eliminating gluten from your diet prior to diagnosis may change the result of blood tests.