Celiac disease is a serious condition for adults and children alike. In children it is particularly distressing because it can difficult to detect as young children are less able to explain their symptoms. In this article we’ll give an overview of celiac disease and how it presents itself in children, as well as likely treatment scenarios.
What is Celiac Disease in Children?
Celiac disease is a disease of the intestines. When the intestines come in contact with gluten, there is an autoimmune reaction which causes the intestines to swell and become irritated. Over time the lining of the intestines can break down which leads to nutrition absorption problems.
With celiac disease in children symptoms don’t generally develop until 6-12 months of age because that is the period of time when table foods containing gluten are introduced.
Symptoms of Celiac Disease in Children
Symptoms in children can vary in intensity. Some children experience severe symptoms while other children appear to have none. Here are some of the more common symptoms found in children:
- An extended or bloated abdomen or belly
- Weight loss or inability to gain weight
- A “failure to thrive” description from a physician
- Excessive gas
Some children with celiac disease may develop problems with their permanent teeth. Grooves or pits may develop in the teeth and they may also have enamel discoloration. Another possible symptom in children is bone weakness and thinning due to a lack of vitamin D absorption. All of these symptoms can be resolved by following a proper treatment protocol.
Celiac disease in children occurs because of a genetic predisposition and exposure to gluten. A child could have inherited the genetic trait from one or both parents. The disease does not develop until exposed to a trigger – which is when the child begins to consume gluten. Celiac disease is different from a wheat or gluten allergy. An allergy typically produces symptoms like wheezing, swelling and hives which is significantly different from the signs of celiac disease in children.
The only known effective treatment is to follow a strict gluten free diet. Gluten can be found in specific cereal grains – wheat, barley, rye and most oats (all except those specifically marked gluten free oats). In order to completely avoid gluten it’s necessary to learn the different ingredients that contain the gluten containing grains. While it sounds daunting at first, keep in mind that the vast majority of food available is naturally gluten free. Plus, in recent years there has been a tremendous surge of gluten free baked goods on the market. You can buy gluten free bread, waffles, cookies, baking mixes and more right from your local grocer. There will be an initial investment of time as you study the guidelines and learn to cook gluten free meals but the health rewards will be well worth it.