What’s Wrong with Gluten? Celiac Disease Signs and Symptoms

Tuesday, August 27, 2013 4:32 PM

celiac diseaseWhat’s wrong with gluten? There’s nothing wrong with it—unless you happen to be one of the two million men and women in the U.S. who suffer from celiac disease.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye.  People who suffer from celiac disease are unable to eat gluten because it causes an inflammatory reaction in their small intestines. This inflammation can cause damage to the lining of the small intestine and prevent the body’s absorption of nutrients and vitamins. If left unchecked, this intestinal damage can cause weight loss, bloating and diarrhea. The body is then deprived of important nutrients, which can damage organs including the heart, bones, kidney and brain. 

There is no cure for celiac disease but eliminating gluten from your diet can reduce symptoms and give your intestines an opportunity to heal. Signs and symptoms of celiac disease vary from patient to patient. They range from more typical symptoms like diarrhea, weight loss and bloating to essentially no symptoms at all. It’s important to discuss any of the following signs, symptoms or issues with your doctor because 70% of patients who have celiac disease go undiagnosed.

How do you know if you have celiac disease? David Labowitz, DO, MPH, Gastroenterology at NorthShore, shares some of the signs and symptoms of celiac disease: 

  • Diarrhea, abdominal bloating and weight loss. These are the most common symptoms of celiac disease.
  • Constipation and obesity. While somewhat counterintuitive, it’s important to know that not all patients will exhibit the typical symptoms. Some with celiac disease might suffer diarrhea and weight loss while others have the opposite. 
  • Anemia. Damage to the small intestines might inhibit the absorption of iron, a major component of the body’s red blood cells.
  • Headaches and numbness/tingling of extremities (neuropathy). Some patients exhibit these neurological symptoms.  
  • Acid reflux and heartburn. Celiac disease patients have significantly higher rates of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Up to 30% of celiac patient have reflux symptoms. 
  • Dermatitis herpetiformis. This is an itchy, blistering rash that appears most frequently on the arms, knees, trunk and head.  
  • Joint pain/arthritis. The most common locations for joint pain seem to be the knees, back, hips, wrists and shoulders.
  • Dental enamel defects and bone disorders (i.e. osteoporosis). Due to the poor absorption of calcium and vitamin D, patients might develop issues with their dental enamel and thinning of the bones. 
  • Elevated liver enzymes. This can be a common finding for celiac patients. An improvement is often noted in the in the abnormal liver numbers when patients are on a gluten-free diet. 
  • Infertility. In research studies, approximately 4-8% of patients with unexplained infertility have been found to have undiagnosed cases of celiac disease.

Do you have celiac disease? If so, what were your symptoms? How difficult was it for you to remove gluten from your diet?

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