Complications of Celiac Disease
If the symptoms of celiac disease go unrecognized and untreated, complications can develop.
Celiac disease is a common digestive disorder. At one time, it was thought that celiac disease was a disease of childhood and that the most common symptoms were bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and failure to thrive. Now that blood tests can identify celiac disease in adults, we are realizing that it is much more common than once thought.
Celiac Disease: Why It Happens
Celiac disease, also called the "great mimic" disease, can cause many different symptoms and vary from person to person. It is therefore easy for celiac disease to be overlooked or misdiagnosed as another condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome.
"If you have celiac disease, it means that your immune system can't tolerate the protein in wheat, rye, or barley," says John Birk, MD, chief of gastroenterology at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington. "This causes inflammation of your small intestine that decreases your ability to absorb essential nutrients in food. Over time, these nutrient deficits can lead to complications."
Celiac Disease Complications
In adults, the digestive symptoms may be less common and the signs or symptoms of celiac disease may be related to the long-term effects of poor absorption. Some of the more common complications include:
"The good news is that in most cases the symptoms can be reversed and the complications prevented by a gluten-free diet," says Birk. In about 70 percent of cases, symptoms of celiac disease start to improve within a few weeks. It may take longer for some people, and it may take as long as two years for all the damage in the small intestine to be healed. The sooner you get a proper diagnosis and start a gluten-free diet, the better chance you have of avoiding complications.