Celiac disease, also called celiac sprue, is a digestive disorder that occurs when an individual’s immune system overreacts to the protein gluten, found in grains including wheat, rye and barley. When someone with the disease eats food that contains gluten, the immune system’s response damages the intestinal lining and symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhea typically occur. Nutrient aborption is decreased and fatigue and unhealthy weight loss typically follow.
Researchers believe that many cases of celiac disease are inherited. In fact, it is estimated that if someone in a persons immediate family (parent or sibling) has celiac disease, that person has a 5-15% chance of developing the disease as well. Trauma may also be a cause. It appears that many cases of celiac disease develop after trauma, such as an infection, stress, physical injury, surgery, or pregnancy.
There are many symptoms that can result from celiac disease including: Weight loss, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, gas, bloating, fatigue, foul-smelling or grayish stools that may be oil, stunted growth in children, and osteoporosis. Interestingly, some people may not have any of the digestive symptoms, and instead develop a skin conditions called dermatitis herpetiformis. This is a painful skin rash that can be mistaken for eczema or psoriasis.
Avoiding gluten containing food typically leads being able to maintain a normal, healthy life. Symptoms will subside within several weeks and affected people will be able to absorb food normally, however it may take several months in children and 2-3 years in elderly patients for the intestine to fully recover.