Celiac disease

Celiac disease is a lifelong (chronic) condition in which foods that contain gluten—proteins found in some grains (notably wheat, barley, and rye)—trigger an immune system response that is not normal and that damages the small intestine. The small intestine then does not absorb nutrients properly.

Celiac disease is treated by adopting a strict gluten-free diet.

Celiac disease is also known as celiac sprue, gluten-sensitive enteropathy, or nontropical sprue.

Symptoms of celiac disease, when they occur, include lack of energy, weight loss or failure to grow, abdominal bloating or cramps, diarrhea, and constipation. Children may vomit and be irritable much of the time. Adults may also have fertility problems or depression but are more likely than children to have mild or no symptoms.

When people with celiac disease choose to eat gluten, they trigger an abnormal immune system response even when they do not notice any symptoms. The immune system response damages the small intestine. If people with celiac disease continue to eat foods with gluten, it may lead to complications, such as osteoporosis, lymphoma, anemia, or intestinal cancer.

Last Updated: June 23, 2008

Author: Monica Rhodes

Medical Review: Michael J. Sexton, MD - Pediatrics & Jerry S. Trier, MD - Gastroenterology

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