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Health Information Could It Be Celiac Disease?

You may have a few gastrointestinal problems that come and go. You might feel run down, depressed or be anemic. But, you can't seem to connect the symptoms with a particular cause. If this is the case, you may want to consult with your doctor to find out if celiac disease may be the issue.

"Celiac disease is difficult to diagnose by the symptoms alone," says Ece Mutlu, MD, a gastroenterologist at Rush and an expert in inflammatory illness of the intestines. "The damage that celiac disease causes to the intestine is microscopic. So the presence of the disease is confirmed by examining tiny tissue samples from the first part of the small intestines to look for that damage."

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease, which means that your body is reacting to its own tissue as if it were a foreign invader, like bacteria or a virus. "The body's immune response is triggered by a protein fraction (gluten) found in particular grains," says Mutlu. "Unlike usual allergies or food intolerances, the autoimmune response in celiac disease is severe enough to destroy the lining of the small intestine where majority of the nutrients are absorbed."

It only takes the smallest quantities of gluten from wheat, spelt or barley to trigger a reaction or to have the immune response persist. In this country, even oats can be a problem for people with celiac disease, because oats are sometimes processed in the same mills as wheat, spelt or barley. Gluten is also found in a lot of processed foods as a filler or binder or can even be found in medications and vitamins.

You'll want to talk to your doctor if you have:

  • Bowel problems after eating wheat, spelt or barley products
    • Gas
    • Bloating
    • Change in bowel habits
      • Diarrhea
      • Constipation
      • Diarrhea predominant irritable bowel syndrome (spastic intestines or colon)
  • Unexplained anemia
  • Fatigue
  • Irregular results for your liver enzymes
  • Unexplained neurological symptoms, such as numbness or tingling in the legs (especially neuropathy)
  • Unexplained infertility or depression

Mutlu recommends talking to your doctor first before putting yourself on a gluten-free diet if you suspect celiac disease. "We won't be able to confirm the disease if you body is not reacting to the gluten at the time of your evaluation."

If you have celiac disease you're at higher risk for:

  • Other autoimmune illnesses such as thyroid disease
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
  • Anemia
  • Bone fractures (from osteopenia or osteoporosis)
  • Abnormal liver tests
  • Certain types of cancers especially in the small intestines

"The good news is that there's a relatively simple solution to managing celiac disease – avoid gluten," says Mutlu. "Also, we are lucky to have a dietitian who specializes in celiac disease here at Rush to help you with your gluten-free life."

Dr. Mutlu will be speaking with some of her colleagues on Wednesday, October 18, 2006, at a community health event "Digestive Health: Ask the Experts" at 6:00 p.m.

Phone (888) 352-RUSH (7874) for more information or to register. You can also use the registration request form to register online.

More Information at Your Fingertips:

  • For more information about gastroenterological care at Rush visit our Gastroenterology and Nutrition home page.
  • Looking for a doctor? Call toll free: 888 352-RUSH (7874)

Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

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