There are over 200 symptoms that people with Celiac Disease may experience. You could be feeling fatigued, have a stuffy nose, get regular abdominal bloating, stomach pain, or even have an itchy skin rash. These symptoms can be misdiagnosed for years as allergies or stomach issues, creating missed or delayed diagnosis. Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disorder, not an allergy. It can be treated with a gluten-free diet, but it can lead to colon cancer and other very serious medical conditions if not addressed.
The only way to be officially diagnosed with Celiac Disease is by a tissue sample taken endoscopically from your small intestine. When someone with Celiac Disease ingests gluten (the protein found in wheat, barley, and rye) an autoimmune response is triggered in the small intestine. This response damages the villi that are responsible for absorbing nutrients. Many people are gluten intolerant, but please do not confuse this with someone who has Celiac Disease. If you have a medical diagnosis, all food you consume must have less than 20 ppm (parts per million) of gluten. To give you an example of this, a crumb of regular gluten bread is much higher than 20 ppm. Cross-contamination of gluten products is the number one issue for people with this diagnosis. Potatoes, as a rule, do not contain gluten- but slice them on a wooden cutting board that someone previously cut bread on makes this an unsafe food option. Or frying potatoes in oil that gluten products like chicken tenders have fried make the food unsafe for someone with Celiac Disease.
All stages of life are affected once diagnosed. It is not easy to navigate at any age. Soy and teriyaki sauce, spice blends, canned soup, some medications and supplements, imitation crab, licorice, and oats would appear gluten free, but they all contain hidden gluten products. When you have a child, it will affect the formula you give them, the foods you introduce to them as toddlers, the preschool birthday parties you attend, and the lunches served at your elementary school. A teenager will be limited to fast food stops after high school games and college parties you attend. Once an adult, the potlucks at work and the dinner parties you get invited to will present other challenges as well. People with Celiac develop a new social norm which is to always to be prepared, which means lots of planning ahead and preparing your own food for social gatherings. You always err on the side of caution because consuming gluten can affect you physically for days or weeks.
Hope is on the horizon. Many trials have started to find a solution to the Celiac problem. There is a biotech company that focuses on eradicating food allergies. They are developing a safe substitute for gluten products so people at home can make bread, pasta, and pizza without the harmful gluten effects. Time will tell if this is an option, but the trial stage has proved very promising. Another company is currently in trials for a medication you take before eating your meals that eliminated cross contamination issues. This drug does not enable people to eat a regular gluten diet, but it would be used in conjunction with a gluten free diet to protect against unintended gluten consumption. It would be a massive breakthrough for a Celiac diagnosis. Eating French fries at a restaurant could be in your future! For the most current information, please visit the Celiac Disease Foundation at Celiac.org.