What is celiac disease in adults?
If you have celiac disease, eating foods that contain gluten causes an immune response in your small intestine. This immune response damages your small intestine's lining and prevents it from absorbing some nutrients (malabsorption) over time.
Symptoms of celiac disease
The intestinal damage caused by celiac disease can lead to various symptoms. In fact, there are more than 200 known celiac disease symptoms. Some people develop celiac disease as a child, others as an adult. The reason for this is still unknown. Digestive signs and symptoms of celiac disease in adults include:
Bloating and gas
Nausea and vomiting
Nausea is the uncomfortable feeling that you need to vomit, but it doesn't always lead to vomiting. Vomiting is the forcible emptying of the stomach’s contents through the mouth, also known as "throwing up."
Types of celiac disease
According to the World Gastroenterology Organization, there are two types of celiac disease: classical and non-classical.
If you have classical celiac disease, symptoms include diarrhea, steatorrhea (pale, foul-smelling, fatty stools), and weight loss.
If you have non-classical celiac disease, you may experience abdominal pain, bloating, and other mild gastrointestinal symptoms not related to malabsorption. You may also experience symptoms such as iron-deficiency anemia, chronic fatigue, chronic migraine, tingling, numbness or pain in your hands or feet, elevated liver enzymes (hypertransaminasemia), reduced bone mass or bone fractures, unexplained infertility, dermatitis herpetiformis, and more.
Causes of celiac disease
If you have celiac disease, the immune response in your small intestine damages the tiny, finger-like structures of tissue, called villi, that line your small intestine. These villi absorb vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients from food.
Celiac disease tends to be more common in people who have:
Tests for celiac disease
Celiac disease affects people differently, making it difficult to diagnose. Two blood tests can help diagnose celiac disease:
- Serology testing looks for elevated levels of certain antibody proteins
- Genetic testing for human leukocyte antigens (HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8)
This method uses a tiny camera on a long tube. It's inserted through the mouth and passed down the throat — also called an upper endoscopy. The camera is used to get a clear view of your small intestine. Your doctor will also take a small tissue sample, called a biopsy, from your small intestine.
A capsule endoscopy uses a tiny wireless camera to take pictures of your entire small intestine. The camera sits inside a vitamin-sized capsule, which you swallow. As the capsule travels through your digestive tract, the camera takes thousands of pictures that are transmitted to a recorder.
Treatments for celiac disease
Unfortunately, the only available management for celiac disease is a gluten-free diet. Removing gluten from your diet will gradually reduce inflammation in your small intestine, causing you to feel better and eventually heal.
Foods to avoid that contain gluten include:
- Graham flour
Traces of gluten are sometimes found in some medications, supplements, and preservatives. Your doctor might recommend steroids to control inflammation if your small intestine is severely damaged. Steroids can help ease severe signs and symptoms of celiac disease while your small intestine heals.
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Celiac Disease Foundation: "Symptoms of Celiac Disease."
Cleveland Clinic: "Nausea & Vomiting."
Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Dietary Changes for Celiac Disease."
MedlinePlus: "Celiac Disease."
National Institute of Health: "Celiac Disease Testing."