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May is Celiac Disease Awareness Month

Celiac Disease affects about 1% of the general population. This means that millions who suffer from this disease that is triggered by gluten consumption. The challenging part, however, is only 5% of individuals with Celiac Disease know that they have it. It is very important for people to recognize the symptoms of Celiac Disease which can develop into chronic health problems if left untreated.

Every May, Celiac Disease Awareness Month increases the public’s knowledge of the autoimmune disorder celiac disease. According to the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, “When a person who has celiac disease consumes gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley, the individual’s immune system responds by attacking the small intestine and inhibiting the absorption of important nutrients into the body.” Those with the disease must adhere to a strict, no-gluten diet, as there is no current cure. Complications including infertility and osteoporosis can occur if the individual is not tested and treated, so awareness is crucial.

In the United States, approximately 3 million people have celiac disease; 21 million people have this disease or are sensitive to gluten. Of the 3 million who have this disease only 5% know they have it. This awareness event aims, in part, to make more people aware that they may have this disease and that by eating gluten-free foods, they can eliminate their symptoms.


What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disease that damages the small intestine. The small intestine is part of the gut which digests & absorbs nutrients from food. When the small intestine is damaged, the rate of nutrient absorption from food is reduced. Celiac disease can affect people in many different ways and symptoms vary in severity. Due to a large number of possible symptoms, there are 3 recognized types of celiac disease.

In many cases, where there are no noticeable symptoms, a person has 'silent coeliac disease'.

People with 'minor celiac disease' have minor symptoms. These can include a wide range of symptoms such as indigestion, bloating, weight loss, and mild abdominal pain.

People with 'major celiac disease' have severe symptoms which can be of great discomfort. These may include 'minor celiac disease' symptoms which are more severe, and other symptoms such as stomach cramps, diarrhea, and muscle spasms.

People with celiac disease are sensitive to gluten which triggers these symptoms. Gluten is a protein found in grains such as barley, wheat, and rye. Consumption of gluten can affect the whole body.


Fast Facts About Celiac Disease

  • Celiac Disease is a serious genetic autoimmune disease
  • 1 in 133 people in the United States has celiac disease – that is approximately 3 million people.
  • 83% of the people with celiac disease are undiagnosed.
  • Left undiagnosed and untreated, people with celiac disease are at risk for other serious health consequences such as osteoporosis, anemia, thyroid disease, and even certain cancers.
  • Celiac disease is the only autoimmune disease with a known trigger –gluten. Gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye, and barley, and foods and drinks that contain these grains.
  • Currently, the only treatment for celiac disease is a strict, gluten-free diet.


Celiac Disease: An Invisible Illness

This serious genetic autoimmune disease has a major impact on people’s health – even if you cannot see it.

Sacrificing major life experiences

  • 49% have sacrificed life experiences because of their diet restrictions.
  • 60% of gluten-free college students report becoming sick from dining on campus, and 42% report missing class as a result of gluten exposure.

Social Anxiety and isolation

  • 49% of children with celiac disease exhibit anxiety, including social and separation anxiety, physical symptoms, excessive worry, and pessimism.
  • 37% of women with celiac disease have symptoms of depression.

Brain fog

  • 89% of patients experience this symptom after gluten exposure. Some describe it as difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness, and grogginess.

Accidental exposure

  • 70% remain exposed to gluten while on the gluten-free diet, putting their long-term health at risk.

Reproductive health

  • Women with celiac disease are significantly more likely to miscarry or give birth prematurely than other women.
  • Women with unexplained infertility are six times more likely to have celiac disease.

Daily burden

  • 80% of people with celiac disease report having difficulty staying strictly gluten-free. Additionally, people with celiac disease report a higher negative impact on their quality of life (also called the burden of disease) than do people with Type 2 Diabetes, congenital heart failure, and inflammatory bowel disease.


What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Celiac Disease?

There are more than 250 known symptoms of celiac disease. Celiac disease symptoms may vary among different people. Due to the wide variety of symptoms that may present themselves, it can sometimes be difficult to diagnose celiac disease.

One person might have diarrhea and abdominal pain, while another person has irritability or depression. Some patients develop symptoms of celiac disease early in life, while others feel healthy far into adulthood. Some people with celiac disease have no signs or symptoms at all.

These differences can make a celiac disease diagnosis extremely difficult to make, resulting in 83% of people with celiac disease being undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with other conditions.

Left untreated, people with celiac disease can develop further complications such as other autoimmune diseases, osteoporosis, thyroid disease, and certain cancers.

For a full list of the 281 associated symptoms, see University Health News.

Some common signs and symptoms of celiac disease include:

  • Anemia
  • Anxiety
  • Bloating or gas
  • Brain fog
  • Constipation
  • Delayed growth in children
  • Depression
  • Diarrhea
  • Discolored teeth
  • Fatigue/tiredness
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Infertility
  • Irritability
  • Itchy skin rash (dermatitis herpetiformis)
  • Joint pain
  • Liver disease
  • Pale mouth sores
  • Poor weight gain
  • Thin bones
  • Tingling/numbness/neuropathy
  • Vomiting


Many people with celiac disease do not have symptoms at all

Classical celiac disease presents with signs and symptoms of malabsorption. Diarrhea, steatorrhea, weight loss, or growth failure is required. Examples of classical celiac disease are patients with diarrhea and weight loss but also patients with weight loss and anemia.

Those with non-classical celiac disease present without signs and symptoms of malabsorption. In non-classical celiac disease, the patient does not suffer from malabsorption (e.g., a patient with constipation and abdominal pain but no malabsorption). Patients with monosymptomatic disease (other than diarrhea or steatorrhea) usually have non-classical celiac disease.

There is also what is known as asymptomatic or silent celiac disease, which is when someone with celiac disease has no outward symptoms. It is unclear why some people have symptoms while others do not. However, people with celiac disease that don’t experience symptoms will still have intestinal damage if they ingest gluten, even if they do not feel sick.


What Are the Risk Factors for Celiac Disease?

Both men and women are at risk for celiac disease. People of any age or race can develop this genetic autoimmune condition. However, there are some factors that can increase your risk of developing celiac disease.

Celiac disease is genetically based, so it is more common in those with a family history of the condition. This means that if you have a blood relative with celiac disease, you are at an increased risk for developing it, too. This autoimmune condition occurs in up to 5-10% of family members of people diagnosed with celiac disease.

About 95% of people with celiac disease have the HLA-DQ2 gene and most of the remaining 5% have the HLA-DQ8 gene. Genetic testing can determine if you have one or both of these genes.

It is important to note that having the gene means you are at risk for developing celiac disease, it but does not mean that you definitely have the disease. A positive genetic test should be followed up with a celiac disease blood panel to determine if you have celiac disease. If your genetic test returns with a negative result, you can virtually rule out celiac disease.

Having an autoimmune disease also makes you more likely to develop other autoimmune diseases, like celiac disease. Thyroid disease and type 1 diabetes are examples of other autoimmune diseases.


Why is Celiac Disease Awareness Month Important?

Celiac disease affects 1% of Americans, which might not seem like a lot - until you realize that’s over 3 million people. Take celiac disease Awareness Month as an opportunity to learn about this widespread illness.

There is currently no cure for celiac disease, and those affected have to be extremely diligent with what they eat and very aware of any symptoms arising. The money-raising campaigns and individual contributions spurred on by Celiac Disease Awareness Month are crucial to funding research that will end this disease.

Another great way to honor this month? Go get screened if you think you have a chance of having celiac disease. You can even screen yourself with’s self-screening checklist. Left untreated, celiac disease can cause dangerous complications, and a whopping 97% of celiac cases are estimated to go undiagnosed in the United States. If you were looking for a reason to be screened, here it is - better to be on the safe side.



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