Follow your gut: it may be celiac

Celiac disease (CD) damages the small intestine and interferes with the absorption of nutrients from food.

by Heather Demeritte — 

You visit the doctor because you are suffering from abdominal bloating, chronic diarrhea and constipation, and extreme fatigue. Your doctor diagnoses you with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) — but is it really IBS?

If your gut feeling tells you to visit another doctor for a second opinion, follow that internal instinct. You may have a digestive condition called celiac disease (CD) that damages the small intestine and interferes with the absorption of nutrients from food.

What is celiac? People who have CD cannot tolerate gluten, a protein in wheat, rye and barley. Gluten is found mainly in cereals, breads and pastas, but also may be found in processed foods and everyday products such as medicines, vitamins and lip balms. Varied symptoms suggest celiac, from mild aches and pains to weight loss.

Celiac affects people in all parts of the world. It is a common disorder experienced by two million Americans, but only 150,000 are properly diagnosed. If your doctor recognizes the symptoms, he will order blood tests. If the tests suggest CD, an intestinal biopsy is performed to confirm the diagnosis.

The only treatment for CD is a gluten-free diet that restricts foods and products containing wheat, rye and barley. Doctors recommend newly diagnosed patients meet with a certified dietitian for help planning a gluten-free diet and learning to read labels. A gluten-free diet requires a new approach to eating. Seek support groups, do research and join online forums, such as to exchange recipes. Plenty of stores are now stocking gluten-free items, and many cookbooks are being published.

Without early diagnosis, or if people continue to eat gluten, CD can lead to the risk of gastrointestinal cancer and malabsorption of vital nutrients.

So follow your gut feeling if you think it is more than IBS, but always consult a doctor rather than self-diagnosing, as the symptoms can be confused with other diseases.


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 and works with an organization helping youths learn fun ways to be fit. 480-310-5854 or

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 28, Number 2, Apr/May 2009.

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