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Celiac Disease in Children

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:

  • Diarrhea
  • An extended or bloated abdomen or belly
  • Weight loss or inability to gain weight
  • A “failure to thrive” description from a physician
  • Anemia
  • 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.

Treatment Options
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.

What is Celiac Disease?

Unless you’ve been diagnosed with celiac disease or know someone who has, it’s very possible that you’ve never heard of it. Most of us are familiar with the term gluten intolerant, but what does it really mean? In this article we’ll define gluten intolerance and celiac disease, take a look at some of the most frequently reported symptoms of celiac disease, and cover some of the basic treatment recommendations. By the end of this article you’ll have a better understand of celiac disease along with a few tips on how to combat it.

What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease, also sometimes referred to as coeliac disease, is a disease of the intestines. When a person with celiac disease consumes gluten their body has an autoimmune reaction where the intestines become irritated and swell. This swelling can damage the intestines leading to an inability to absorb nutrients. In severe cases celiac disease can be life threatening.

Celiac Disease Symptoms
Before we share with you the list of common symptoms, it’s important to note that not all those suffering from celiac disease exhibit all, some or even any of these symptoms. One of the most difficult parts of diagnosing celiac disease is the variance in symptoms. Some people suffer from almost all the symptoms – others have no symptoms at all for many many years.

  • Fatigue
  • Foggy thinking
  • Abdominal pain or cramping, particularly after consuming wheat or gluten containing products
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Anemia
  • Other vitamin or mineral deficiencies
  • Elevated liver counts on blood tests
  • Weight loss
  • Osteoporosis
  • Itchy rash that comes and goes

If you have several of the above listed symptoms, or if you suspect that you may have celiac disease, see your physician right away. There are simple tests that can be done to diagnose this disease and treatment is possible. Don’t spend another day in discomfort.

Celiac Disease in Children
In children, the disease can be difficult to identify at first. Most infants with celiac disease are given a ‘failure to thrive’ classification. In toddlers and older children a symptom can be stunted growth along with some of the other symptoms found in adults such as fatigue, rash and abdominal pain.

Fortunately, there is treatment. The only known way to treat celiac disease is with a gluten free diet. Gluten is found in wheat, rye, barley and most oats. By removing the source of the gluten the intestines will no longer trigger an autoimmune reaction. Over time the intestines can heal and normal nutritional absorption can occur. It may sound daunting to remove all wheat from your diet, but there are many gluten free substitutes on the market today.

Celiac Q & A

In this article we’d like to present some common questions and provide answers that we hope will prove helpful.

Q: What is celiac disease?
A: Celiac disease is a condition where there is an adverse reaction to gluten. Gluten is a protein chain found in some grains. The reaction causes damage to the small intestine and leads to nutrient malabsorption.

Q: What are celiac disease symptoms?
A: Unfortunately there is no typical symptom list. Some people experience no symptoms. Celiac disease symptoms in adults can include diarrhea, weight loss, gas, and severe abdominal pain. Some individuals also develop dermatitis herpetiformis which is a related disease where an extremely itchy rash appears.

Q: Who is impacted by this disease?
A: This condition primarily impacts people over the age of 20. Celiac disease in children is rare, but does occur.

Q: What is the suggested treatment?
A: There is no medication available to treat this disease. The standard recommendation is to avoid all foods containing gluten, including foods that are typically gluten free but that may have come in contact with gluten during processing. Gluten can be found in wheat, rye, barley and most oats are processed along with gluten-containing grains so are not safe for individuals with celiac disease.

Q: Are there support groups or other ways to get help?
A: Yes! There are several support groups in all parts of the country. To get more information on a local support group, call one of the following:

American Celiac Society 973-325-8837
Canadian Celiac Society 905-507-6208
Gluten Intolerance Group of North America 206-246-6652

Q: Where can I find gluten free food?
A: There are lots of gluten free retailers online. There are also a number of them that provide a catalog. More and more mainstream grocery stores are offering a selection of gluten free foods and most health food stores have a gluten free section.

Q: Can I drink alcohol?
A: Absolutely. Wine, tequila, sake, rum and vodka are generally safe. Grain alcohols are controversial. While distillation should remove all gluten, some individuals report problems with them. There are also many brewers that are introducing various types of gluten free beer that are definitely worth investigating.

We hope that the above Q&A has been helpful in learning more about celiac disease. Remember, if you or someone you love has been diagnosed with this disease – you’re definitely not alone. There are many resources available to help you learn about the disease, treatment and leading a gluten free lifestyle.