Because they are not getting the nutrients they need, children with celiac disease may not grow properly, may be tired or may lose weight. If celiac disease is not treated, it can lead to serious, long-term health problems, including:
- Lack of iron in the blood (anemia)
- Early development of brittle bones (osteoporosis) or low-bone density (osteopenia)
- Short stature
- Teeth enamel defects
- Thyroid problems
- Inability to get pregnant (infertility) and miscarriage
- Lactose intolerance (cannot digest the natural sugar in milk)
- Inability to absorb enough vitamins and minerals
- Inability to properly digest food due to lack of stomach enzymes (pancreatic insufficiency)
- Cancers in the stomach and other organs of the gastrointestinal system (esophagus, small and large intestine and rectum)
- Conditions of the brain and nervous system (such as epilepsy and migraines)
When people develop celiac disease at a later age, there is a greater risk of developing other autoimmune conditions and related health problems. Although some people do not have symptoms, they may still have the health conditions and damage listed earlier.
Diagnosing Celiac Disease
Because celiac disease symptoms often look like other digestive conditions, only a provider can evaluate and diagnose your child with this condition.
To determine if your child has celiac disease, your Seattle Children’s provider will:
- Ask questions: The provider will ask you and your child questions about your child’s past health, any symptoms, your family’s health, any medicines your child is taking, any allergies and any other concerns you have about your child’s health.
- Do blood work: If the provider thinks your child may have celiac disease, they will order a blood test to check if your child shows high levels of antibodies to gluten.
- Do an endoscopy: If the results of the blood test show that your child has a high level of antibodies to other proteins in the intestinal lining, the provider may recommend testing a sample of tissue (called a biopsy) of the small intestine to determine accurately if your child has celiac disease. The procedure used to get this sample of the intestine is called an endoscopy.
Treating Celiac Disease
There is no cure for celiac disease. The only way to treat it is to follow a gluten-free diet, which means not eating foods with wheat, rye, barley or triticale (a wheat and rye hybrid). People with celiac disease need to follow this diet for life.
It is important to be very careful to avoid all gluten. Even the smallest amounts, such as crumbs from a cutting board or toaster, can cause damage in the small intestine.
At Seattle Children’s, children and their families meet with a nutritionist. They will learn how to follow a gluten-free diet and manage their nutrition to repair their small intestine and enhance their health.