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Celiac Sprue Disease: Medical Information on Causes, Diagnosis, Symptoms and Treatment

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Celiac diseaseQuick Answers about Celiac Sprue Disease

  • Celiac Disease – Sprue
  • Common Symptoms
  • The Causes of Celiac Disease
  • Diagnosing Celiac Sprue
  • Treating Celiac Disease and Possible Complications
  • Shopping and Preparing Meals
  • Clinical Trials

Celiac Sprue Disease

Celiac Disease – Sprue

Celiac disease is a gluten-related chronic disease that damages the lining of the small intestine. The damage occurs from the body’s reaction to consuming and digesting even trace amounts of gluten. Gluten is found in numerous grains including oats, barley, rye and wheat, and any food product made with these ingredients. The disease is not identified as a food allergy but is referred to by various names including:

  • Celiac sprue
  • Celiac disease
  • Gluten-induced enteropathy
  • Gluten-sensitive enteropathy

More than three million Americans suffer from celiac disease and less than one percent of the total population or 1 out of 133 individuals have the inability to tolerate the gluten protein. The condition can affect both women and men of all races and ages. The reaction is a part of the small intestine’s inability to digest or absorb. Because of that, it is also referred to as a malabsorption disorder.

Scientific studies have determined that celiac disease is genetic and passed on from one generation to the other, though not every family member could be affected. The disease is discovered after some physical or emotional event that could include severe emotional stress, viral infection, pregnancy, childbirth or surgery. The disease is extremely rare in African-Americans or those with an Asian or Caribbean background. Females tend to experience the disease more than men and most cases begin in individuals after 30 years of age.

Common Symptoms

Individuals predisposed to celiac disease and accidentally consume any product made with certain gluten proteins will likely suffer intestinal issues including constipation, gas, and diarrhea. However, they can also experience a variety of other symptoms that include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Anemia
  • Nausea
  • Osteoporosis
  • Joint or bone pain
  • Loss of bone density
  • Blistering itchy rash (dermatitis herpetiformis)
  • Heartburn
  • Depression
  • Malnutrition
  • Behavioral changes in irritability
  • Weight loss
  • Mouth ulcers
  • General fatigue
  • Muscle cramps
  • Headaches
  • Skin issues

Some children are highly susceptible to reacting to the intestinal destruction caused by celiac disease. For these children, the common symptoms often involve:

  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Swelling or bloating of the belly
  • Weight loss
  • Steatorrhea (foul-smelling, pale stool)

Not every individual suffering from celiac sprue disease will display every symptom. In fact, some individuals with the condition never experience any symptoms at all, which can make it challenging for the physician to diagnose.

The Causes of Celiac Disease

The cause of celiac sprue disease is thought to be a biological response to a combination of environmental factors (consuming gluten) and genetics. It requires that the individual has both a genetic predisposition to the condition and exposure to the consumption of gluten products.

Diagnosing Celiac Sprue

Many individuals with the celiac sprue condition are never diagnosed with having it. Studies indicate that as few as one out of every five people suffering from the disease never receives a proper diagnosis. This is because the damage it does to the lining of the intestines is often extremely slow and varied, meaning it could be years or decade before the individual receives an accurate diagnosis.

A digestive system specialist (gastroenterologist) will have training in diagnosing celiac disease. Often, the physician will conduct various blood tests to determine if higher levels of proteins and antibodies are present in the patient’s immune system, which can include:

  • Anti-tissue transglutaminase
  • Anti-gliadin
  • Anti-endomysium antibodies

To verify that the condition is present, the doctor will often use an endoscope (a small camera with a flexible tube on the end) to study the interior of the small intestine and remove a tissue (biopsy) sample. In addition, the doctor may perform other tests to check for malabsorption, bone loss and malnutrition. Laboratory test might include electrolyte imbalance chemistries, indicators of malnutrition, fat absorption/stool examination, hematological tests including PT (prolonged prothrombin time), low serum iron level, and anemia, lactose intolerance tests, and serology tests.

Treating Celiac Disease and Possible Complications

It is not important to begin a gluten-free diet prior to seeking a diagnosis to determine if celiac disease is present. This is because it might make it more challenging for the physician to receive an accurate test result. However, after diagnosis of celiac disease, it is important to speak with the registered dietitian who can develop a gluten-free celiac disease diet. Even though the food is highly restrictive, suffers can still enjoy various nutritional tasty meals and foods made from gluten-free products that include:

  • Fish, poultry, and meat that have not been marinated or breaded
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Flours made from soy, rice, corn or potato
  • White or brown rice

Avoiding gluten containing foods and meals are crucial to staying healthy and avoiding permanent damage to the lining of the intestines. Without adequate treatment, the disease can easily develop into a life-threatening condition or any failure to diagnose or delay diagnosis could put the patient at risk for developing other serious diseases or conditions. Common complications of a celiac disease patient involve:

  • Malnutrition
  • Seizures
  • Intestinal lymphoma and intestinal cancer
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Osteomalacia or osteoporosis
  • Peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage)
  • Thyroid disease
  • Infertility

Shopping and Preparing Meals

Many prepared food products made with meats, fish, vegetables, fruits, potatoes and rice are available without seasonings and additives and do not contain any gluten proteins to ensure the consumer is eating a well-balanced diet. In addition, many products are made with gluten-free flours such as buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth, soy, rice, potato and bean flour.

Years ago, dietitians and physicians advised their patients against consuming oats. However, recent evidence has revealed that consuming oats in moderate amounts is all right, as long as the product never came in contact with harmful wheat gluten during the manufacturing and cooking process. Doctor suggest that patients suffering from celiac disease shop wisely and choose appropriate food options when eating out. Other factors to consider to prevent a reaction to gluten products include:

  • Read All Food Labels – Reading labels is especially important when purchasing and consuming frozen, canned and processed foods to ensure that there are no gluten ingredients in the product.
  • Identify Gluten-Free Labeled Foods – By U.S. law, every food product labeled as gluten-free that is sold to the consumer must contain 20 parts per million or less gluten.
  • Ask Wait Staff and Chefs about Prepared Food – When eating out, it is important to ask wait servers and chefs how each ordered dish was prepared to ensure it is gluten-free.

Consuming gluten-free products tends to be more expensive than eating items made with gluten. However, the additional cost is worth not getting sick and support from family members and friends can help ensure the individual can remain on track when consuming foods that do not harm their intestinal tract.

Clinical Trials

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and the National Institutes of Health conduct digestive disorder clinical research and trials. These trials are designed to find new solutions for preventing, detecting and treating celiac disease. Participation in clinical trials through recruitment is available after discussing the patient discusses their condition with their physician who can then recommend currently opened trials.


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