The digestive disorder celiac disease affects about 1 in 133 people in the United States, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse.
When an individual has celiac disease, she cannot consume food that contains gluten. In reaction to these foods, the individual’s immune system damages or destroys the villi in the small intestine, which affects absorption of nutrients.
Several symptoms can occur with celiac disease. For example, a child can experience weight loss, vomiting, and abdominal bloating and pain. Constipation and chronic diarrhea may occur. Some individuals may have stool that is foul-smelling, pale or fatty.
Adults may not have these digestive symptoms, noted the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Instead, they may experience fatigue, depression, seizures, joint pain and missed menstrual periods.
The treatment for celiac disease is to eat a gluten-free diet. This involves avoiding foods such as barley, wheat, triticale and rye, and instead eating foods such as beans, fruits, hominy and soy.
The gluten-free diet alleviates symptoms for individuals with celiac disease, as well as healing existing and preventing further damage.
Eating a gluten-free diet may provide relief for individuals who have symptoms similar to celiac disease, but do not have the disorder. The condition, called non-celiac gluten sensitivity, is less severe than celiac disease.
The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness noted that non-celiac gluten sensitivity “is not accompanied by the enteropathy, elevations in tissue-transglutaminase, endomysium or deamidated gliadin antibodies, and increased intestinal permeability that are characteristic of celiac disease.”
While research on non-celiac gluten sensitivity is relatively new, the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness estimated that about 18 million people have the condition.
Individuals with this condition often have non-gastrointestinal symptoms, such as joint pain, headaches and numbness in the extremities when they consume gluten.