Gluten is a protein found in rye, wheat, and barley. Approximately fifteen percent of the population of the United States are at least gluten intolerant, but ninety-nine percent of these individuals are never diagnosed. Celiac disease occurs as a result of gluten intolerance. It is an autoimmune disease characterized by damage in the small intestine of individuals who are predisposed to gluten intolerance. Being aware of the symptoms of celiac disease is crucial to obtaining prompt and effective treatment, which can be life-saving in many instances, as most individuals rely on consuming products containing gluten, such as pasta, and bread, daily.
Diarrhea Or Constipation
Celiac disease is known to manifest as chronic diarrhea or constipation in affected individuals. Diarrhea is the medical term used to describe loose stools with a watery consistency. Diarrhea is the most common symptom to occur in individuals who have untreated or undetected celiac disease. Approximately forty-five to eighty-five percent of all individuals with celiac disease have chronic episodes of diarrhea that begin to manifest within the first couple years of their life. Malabsorption and maldigestion of nutrients are the mechanisms that result in diarrhea. When fats are not digested from the food in the intestine, it tends to move through the gastrointestinal tract too quickly. The food moves through the large intestine too fast and causes the inhibition of proper fluid absorption, resulting in diarrhea.
Some individuals affected by celiac disease experience constipation, the term used to describe stools that are too hard and difficult to pass. The mechanism behind this symptom is due to the small intestine, which is responsible for nutrient absorption becoming damaged. This damage can cause the small intestine to absorb fluid inappropriately and abnormally. By the time the digested food leaves the small intestine, too much fluid has been drawn out. Compounded fluid absorption by the large intestine causes the stool to become abnormally hard.
Individuals affected by celiac disease may present with abdominal distension and bloating. When an individual has the sensation of an inflated balloon in the abdomen, they are bloated. Distension is a noticeable width increase in the area between the hips and chest. These symptoms commonly present within the first few years of a patient's life. Celiac disease patients often have trouble absorbing fats and nutrients from the food they eat. When the nutrients move through the intestine without being absorbed, the bacteria that live in the intestine begin to feed on it. The feeding process produces byproducts in the form of gas, which can fill portions of the intestines. Additionally, celiac disease patients may have a tendency to overeat to compensate for the malabsorption problems their disease causes. However, overeating can result in visible bloating and abdominal distension. In addition, hypoproteinemia from celiac disease can cause the accumulation of fluid within the abdomen or ascites bloating.
Around twenty-eight percent of all celiac disease patients report experiencing excessive gas. This excessive gas can cause the individual to feel bloated and experience severe abdominal cramping. Celiac disease patients have difficulty digesting fats and carbohydrates in their small intestine. The food moves through the small intestine and these nutrients are not absorbed, bacteria that live in the small intestine begin to eat it instead. The process of bacteria consumption of these materials produces gaseous byproducts in the intestine. This mechanism can cause the bacteria in the intestine to overgrow, resulting in more gas secretions, further inflammation, and infection. Individuals who have celiac disease are also typically unable to absorb lactose. When the intestinal bacteria ferment in this unabsorbed lactose, a gaseous byproduct is formed. This type of gas can manifest as hydrogen secretions in the affected individual's breath.
Also known as chicken skin, keratosis pilaris is a condition characterized by small, red bumps on the back of the arms, thigh, cheeks, and buttocks. Typically, these bumps are harmless and are not itchy, though they can be. This condition is caused by a buildup of keratin, which is a protein responsible for protecting the individual's skin from infection and harmful substances. While the reason for this buildup is unknown, it often appears alongside other skin conditions, such as atopic dermatitis and eczema. Dry skin can also exacerbate it. While more research is required to directly link keratosis pilaris to celiac disease, the indirect connection through skin conditions like eczema is clear. More patients with keratosis pilaris and eczema have celiac disease than healthy individuals.
Those who are intolerant to gluten or who have full-blown celiac disease may experience extreme tiredness or impaired concentration after eating products that contain even a little gluten. Brain fog is not just about being tired, though it can be accompanied by extreme fatigue. It can be described as being forgetful, having a cloudy mind, experiencing difficulty finding the right words to say, and suffering from mental fatigue. Avoiding foods containing gluten as well as drinking lots of water can help with exhaustion and brain fog. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies (which are common in patients with celiac disease) may also exacerbate brain fog, so taking a gluten-free multivitamin can be quite beneficial.
Having other members in the family with celiac disease may increase an individual's risk of developing the condition themselves. Other autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto's thyroiditis, ulcerative colitis, psoriasis, lupus, multiple sclerosis or scleroderma, can be an indication of celiac disease as many autoimmune diseases are related. In fact, it is proven if an individual has one autoimmune disease, they are far more susceptible to developing or already having others, especially when there is a hereditary component at play
Being diagnosed with chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia may also be an indication of celiac disease, especially if a conventional doctor cannot pinpoint the cause of pain or fatigue. The easiest way to get a better idea of this is for individuals to eliminate gluten from their diet for thirty to sixty days before slowly reintroducing it to observe potential symptoms.
Feelings of dizziness or being off-balance may be an indication of celiac disease. This is similar to brain fog and may occur directly after an affected individual consumes a meal containing gluten. Migraine headaches are also a sign of celiac disease. Symptoms of a migraine include increased sensitivity to light, stroke-like symptoms, the loss of feeling or numbness in limbs, and cognitive impairment. Moodiness, anxiety, mood swings, depression, and attention deficit disorder may also be an indication of celiac disease, especially if there is a history of long term gluten use. Eliminating foods containing gluten from the diet should clear up these symptoms within two weeks.
Inflammation, as it will not surprise many individuals to learn, is a symptom that can indicate the presence of countless illnesses and disease, including celiac disease. Thus, inflammation alone is not enough for an accurate diagnosis of any condition (unless there is a clear cause observed and immediate inflammation after). However, inflammation that occurs in the joints, fingers, knees or hips may be an indication of celiac disease. Chronic inflammation builds up inside joints when the body has a long-term reaction to gluten. If gluten has been present in the body for many years, it can be an indication the body is trying to naturally heal itself.
Unexplained Weight Loss
Approximately forty-five percent of patients who have celiac disease experience weight loss with no apparent cause. The amount of weight loss tends to vary between patients due to the fact some individuals compensate for their malabsorption by increasing their dietary intake considerably. Unexplained weight loss is a symptom known to manifest in affected individuals before they reach mid-childhood. Children diagnosed with celiac disease tend to experience growth retardation and failure to thrive. This malfunction is reflected as a decrease in growth charts. Untreated celiac disease can cause a patient to have a delay in the onset of puberty due to poor weight gain. The main reason for weight loss in celiac disease is due to malabsorption of carbohydrates, resulting in a higher calorie burn-off rate than that of consumption. Indicators of unexplained weight loss include loose skin folds, loss of bone density, and muscle wasting.
Iron-deficiency anemia may be a symptom of celiac disease. Between ten and fifteen percent of all individuals who have celiac disease present with iron-deficiency anemia at least once throughout the course of their disease. It is estimated around three percent of all iron-deficiency anemia patients also have celiac disease. The mechanism behind this symptom involves the proximal small intestine's inability to absorb folate, iron, or both from the food consumed. In advanced cases of celiac disease with damage to the patient's ileum, an impairment in the absorption of vitamin B12 may also be present. When an individual becomes deficient in iron, folate, or vitamin B12, their body can not produce an adequate amount of healthy red blood cells (anemia). This can result in fatigue, weakness, glossitis, dizziness, shortness of breath, high heart rate, and lightheadedness. Anemia may also cause orthostatic hypotension, which is low blood pressure upon changing positions. Celiac disease patients have abnormal lab results consisting of low iron serum, low hemoglobin, and prolonged prothrombin time.