Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes a person to have damage to their small intestine whenever they eat a food with gluten. The actual cause of Celiac was first discovered during World War II by the Dutch pediatrician Willem Dicke, and today in the U.S. it is estimated that 1% of the population has Celiac (which is around 1/100 people). However, the main issue is that 97% of these people are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed and don’t know they have Celiac disease. This is partially due to the fact that much of the population, including doctors, is unfamiliar with Celiac and its symptoms.
The average time it takes for a person to be diagnosed is 9 years. Therefore, people need to spread awareness of the disease and its symptoms so more people can be properly diagnosed quicker. Celiac is a hereditary disorder, and causes the body to get damaged from ingesting gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale. When a person has Celiac, their body sees gluten as a foreign substance and forms antibodies to attack and destroy gluten. These antibodies attack the lining of the small intestine, which causes inflammation and damage of the villi, the hair like structures on the lining. The villi absorbs nutrients from food, and if damaged, the villi can’t absorb these nutrients resulting in malnourishment. If this happens, there are many symptoms that can affect people until they are properly diagnosed. Some of the varied symptoms are: painful and reoccurring stomachaches, having to go to the bathroom often, diarrhea, depression/anxiety, headaches, fatigue, stunted growth, bloating, etc. However, some people are asymptomatic (like myself) and don’t have any of the symptoms associated with Celiac. These people likely make up much of the 97% who don’t know they have Celiac disease.
This can be done using blood tests and an intestinal biopsy.
The only treatment for Celiac disease is to go on a completely gluten-free diet (which heals the damage to the small intestine over time). After a child is diagnosed and starts a gluten-free diet, on average it will take 3-6 months for their small intestine to fully heal, while adults can take 2-3 years.
There can be many long-term effects of Celiac going undiagnosed or untreated such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, mineral and vitamin deficiencies, infertility and/or miscarriage, osteoporosis, cancer, etc. This is why it’s so important to raise awareness for Celiac because it’s a major concern that so many people aren’t diagnosed. Raising awareness will prevent many more people from having any of these long-term consequences. There is no pill or medicine for treating Celiac, but the number of gluten-free foods available is increasing every year and is much greater than even just a few years ago.