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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 asĀ  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.

Do you Know the Symptoms of Celiac Disease? A Quiz

If you’re curious about celiac disease, take our short quiz to see how much you know about the lesser known symptoms.

Q: How do symptoms of celiac disease in children differ from symptoms of celiac disease in adults?
a) There is no substantial difference between celiac disease in adults and in children.
b) There is a difference between adults and children. Adults can have a host of symptoms, or show no symptoms. Children however will almost always show signs of weight loss or failure to thrive. Some children also experience abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea.
c) Children generally show no symptoms and can be difficult to diagnose. Adults almost always show the same set of symptoms including diarrhea, abdominal pain and weight loss.
d) Celiac disease is only found in adults and not in children.
Answer: b) There is a difference between adults and children.

Q: Is weight gain one of the symptoms of celiac disease?
a) Yes, nearly every one with celiac disease gains weight.
b) No, celiac disease generally manifests itself as weight loss and emaciation rather than weight gain.
c) Weight gain can occur due to an increased appetite caused by the lack of nutrition being absorbed by the intestines.
d) a and c
Answer: c) Weight gain can occur due to increased appetite. While this does happen, it is not with everyone. Weight loss is a more often reported symptom with celiac disease than weight gain.

Q: Do symptoms of celiac disease in women differ from those in men?
a) Women do not get celiac disease.
b) Men tend to report more symptoms than do women and have a more serious condition.
c) Men do not get celiac disease.
d) Both men and women can be diagnosed with celiac disease and can have the same symptoms.
Answer: d) Both men and women can have celiac disease. Symptoms differ from person to person but do not typically change based on sex. Common symptoms include abdominal cramping, muscle aches, a chronic itchy rash, anemia, diarrhea, weight loss, weight gain, moodiness, osteoporosis, muscle wasting, inability to concentrate, moodiness and dizziness.

How did you fare? Did you learn something new? While celiac disease is a serious condition, it is treatable. Most patients find that adopting a gluten free diet they can completely eliminate the symptoms of celiac disease. If you believe you may have celiac disease, seek the advice of your family doctor to determine the right treatment plan. With some planning and a good attitude, you’ll be on the road to a gluten free lifestyle and improved health.