Celiac disease 101

February 24, 2012

Celiac disease, Health

Celiac disease, or CD, is not contagious, but it can be hereditary.

by Heather Demeritte — 

“You have celiac disease,” your doctor finally tells you after months, maybe even years of insufferable periods of abdominal pain and embarrassing trips to the bathroom.

So what exactly is celiac disease? Is it contagious or life threatening? Who else has it? Many questions may enter your mind, but your doctor and some basic research can help ease your anxiety by providing a thorough explanation of this incurable disease.

Celiac disease, or CD, is not contagious, but it can be hereditary. It is an autoimmune disorder in which the body mistakenly reacts to gluten — a protein found in wheat, barley and rye — as if it is an ingested poison.

When someone with CD consumes gluten, the gluten in the immune system reacts by destroying the part of the small intestine that absorbs vital nutrients. This can develop into long-term complications such as malnutrition, lymphoma, osteoporosis, neurological complications and miscarriage. The good news is that treatment is attainable and the damage can be reversed.

Once a patient is properly diagnosed by a series of tests, (such as blood work, followed by a biopsy of the small bowel to detect damage to the lining), a strict gluten-free diet is prescribed. A gluten-free diet is a lifetime commitment.

A dietitian can help teach you about food selection, label reading and other ways to manage CD. When gluten is eliminated, the small intestine begins to heal and a return to full health can be expected.

Celiac disease is not rare. It is estimated that one in 133 people are affected, but most have not been diagnosed properly — they were told their symptoms were either IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) or related to food intolerances. If a relative, parent, sibling or child is diagnosed with CD, you have a one in 22 chance of also having the disease.

The symptoms of CD vary from person to person but are often manifested in bloating, gas, diarrhea, weight loss or gain, constant fatigue or weakness, headaches, infertility, depression in spite of medication, abdominal pain, bone pain and anemia. In children, symptoms may include failure to thrive, short stature, distended abdomen, dental enamel defects and unusual behavioral changes.

Once a patient accepts the diagnosis and the treatment, the most difficult process is eliminating gluten completely from the diet. However, once you feel your health improve, sticking to the diet is recommended and well worth the struggle.

Search for gluten-free cookbooks that will appeal to everyone in the family, and visit support groups in your community or online, such as Educating yourself and family members is the first step to accepting celiac disease as a new way of life, rather than an obstacle to overcome.


Heather Demeritte is a fitness instructor and dance teacher in Scottsdale, Ariz. She is certified by the American Council of Exercise with a degree in early childhood development. 480-310-5854 or

Reprinted from AZNetNews, Volume 30, Number 3, June/July 2011.

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