What Is Celiac Disease, and How Do I Know if I Have It?

Celiac disease is a serious autoimmune condition where the immune system overreacts to the presence of gluten in the diet. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley, and because many foods are made from wheat, gluten is everywhere. 

If you have digestive symptoms, it’s best to seek professional help in getting to the source of the problem. Because Celiac disease causes symptoms that also develop in other digestive conditions, it’s all the more important to visit an expert so you get a trustworthy diagnosis.

Monarque Health & Wellness Center in Ashland, Oregon, provides a full range of family medicine and functional medicine services to help you stay healthy and functioning at your best. 

Despite the increased prevalence of Celiac disease, many people remain undiagnosed. Arming yourself with knowledge of the signs is a good first step. 

How does Celiac disease develop?

Celiac is an autoimmune condition that affects the digestive system. When someone who has celiac disease eats food that contains gluten, their immune system identifies it as a threat and launches an attack on the small intestine.

Over time, the attack damages the small, fingerlike projections known as villi that line the small intestine. Harm to these villi can lead to reduced nutrient absorption and related complications.

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms of Celiac disease are highly individual. Classic signs include:

Celiac can also cause fatigue, joint pain, brain fog, and depression. If nutrient absorption is an issue, deficiencies in certain nutrients can occur. Patients with Celiac disease are at risk of iron deficiency in particular.

Some people with Celiac develop skin rashes. Symptoms may occur immediately upon ingesting gluten, or they may arise hours or days later.

Diagnosing Celiac disease

If you’re having persistent digestive issues or other symptoms, it’s time to talk to a doctor. To check for Celiac disease, our team can order blood tests to screen for Celiac-specific antibodies. An endoscopic biopsy of the small intestine looks for damage to the villi. 

A diagnosis will also involve ruling out conditions like irritable bowel syndrome that share similar symptoms.

If there is no damage to the small intestine and a lack of Celiac-specific antibodies, our team may check for non-Celiac gluten sensitivity —  a recently recognized condition where people have an intolerance to gluten but without immune system involvement. 

A medically supervised elimination diet is the primary way to diagnose non-Celiac gluten sensitivity. 

Living with Celiac disease

A strict gluten-free diet is the only treatment for Celiac disease. It takes some time to get used to a gluten-free diet, and it involves checking labels carefully for gluten. 

Receiving a celiac disease diagnosis can be life-changing. However, adhering to a gluten-free diet is essential to prevent complications. 

Whether you’ve noticed potential symptoms in yourself or a loved one, or you're simply striving to be more informed, recognizing the importance of a proper diagnosis and management plan is critical. 

Listen to your body, and don’t hesitate to consult health care professionals if you suspect celiac disease may be causing your issues. For a comprehensive Celiac disease evaluation, call our office to schedule a visit.

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