Celiac disease or also referred to as “gluten sensitive enteropathy,” is essentially a condition where the tissue of the small bowel reacts to and becomes inflamed due to exposure to the ingestion of gluten. Gluten is a filler in lots of foods and is a wheat, rye, and barley by-product. However, celiac disease is very different from a “wheat allergy.”
Celiac patients can present with symptoms very early on and some of the most common presentations are abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and slowed or poor growth. However, there are multiple other less “classic” symptoms and for that reason, celiac is sometimes called “The Great Pretender.” “I’ve even had several patients present with tooth enamel deficiency as their only symptom of the disease,” said Gastroenterologist April Ulmer M.D.
Celiac unfortunately is a lifelong diagnosis. Patient’s battle with the disease by doing their best to maintain a gluten-free diet. There is sometimes difficulty in maintaining the diet, especially given the pervasiveness of gluten and our fast-paced lifestyles. However, with the disease’s growing awareness, more gluten-free options are becoming available.
“Several patients have told me that one of their best experiences with having lots of gluten-free options was at Disney World!” Dr. Ulmer noted.
Once gluten free, symptoms typically improve quickly. There are several drug companies performing clinical trials on medications to block gluten and at least one company working to develop a vaccine. But, as it stands now, a gluten free diet is the only available treatment.
Because celiac responds so well and relatively quickly to initiation of a gluten-free diet, patients’ quality of life from a symptom standpoint is usually very good. The most important thing that Dr. Ulmer stresses to her patients is that celiac is a lifestyle change, but does not mean that their lives have to be any less satisfying.