Celiac Disease

What is celiac disease?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that involves the body mistaking certain grain proteins as potentially harmful threats, causing the immune system to attack both those proteins and the body's own tissue. This results in the breakdown of certain cellular structures, particularly within the small intestines. When a person with celiac disease eats or drinks something that contains a triggering protein, such as wheat, barley or rye, their immune system typically reacts by attacking the tissue in the intestines where the protein is present. Since the body is attacking its own tissue, this can cause inflammation of the small intestines and other organs and erosion of the small, hairlike projections inside the intestines called villi. The initial autoimmune response is often accompanied by unpleasant symptoms such as gas, bloating, abdominal pain, nausea and others, which can vary is severity depending on the person and range from becoming noticeable almost immediately to going undetected for an extended period of time. Moreover, the villi are essential to the absorption of nutrients into the bloodstream. Over time as they become damaged and eventually destroyed the body is hampered in its ability to absorb all the nutrients it needs to remain healthy, which can lead to a host of serious long-term side effects and potentially even death.

Once thought to be a rare childhood disorder, celiac disease is now known to afflict people of all ages and nationalities, including as many as 2 million people or more in the United States alone. Celiac disease is found on every continent in the world and has been confirmed with similar incidence levels in many countries, making it one of the most common human genetic diseases.

Are celiac disease and coeliac disease the same thing?

Yes. The Greek word κοιλιά (or koiliakos), which roughly translates to "belly" or "abdomen", is the root of both spellings. "Celiac" is the spelling typically used in the United States while "coeliac" is common in other parts of the world including Europe, New Zealand and Australia. Whichever spelling is used, the condition, symptoms and side-effects being described are the same.

What is gluten sensitivity?

Gluten sensitivity is the name commonly given to a wide range of celiac-like symptoms experienced by people who have tested negative for celiac disease. Although these people do not experience the same autoimmune reaction as those with true celiac disease, they do experience many or all of the same symptoms. The term gluten sensitivity may also be used to describe people who have never been formally tested for celiac disease, but who experience celiac-like symptoms after ingesting triggering proteins and relief from those symptoms when adhering to a gluten-free diet.