Celiac disease (also known as celiac sprue or gluten-sensitive enteropathy) is an auto-immune and digestive disorder that occurs in about one in 100 people in the United States. For children with this disorder, gluten can cause serious damage to their intestine if it is ingested. If your child has celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, gluten damages the “villi” in their intestines. Since the villi (finger-like projections that contain most of the enzymes needed for digestion) are damaged for those with celiac disease, their bodies have enormous difficulty ingesting the healthy nutrients their bodies need such as fat, calcium, iron, and folate.
Some of the symptoms of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity include:
- Digestive problems such as bloating, vomiting, excess gas and/or pain, severe and/or chronic diarrhea, irritable bowel, weight loss, weight gain, etc.
- Constant and/or severe headaches or migraines
- Low levels of iron (anemia)
- Skin rashes (also known as dermatitis herpetiformis)
- Bone or joint pain
- Depression and/or anxiety
- Unexplained fatigue
- Failure to thrive
Most children have a healthy immune system that prevents the body from being harmed by gluten, but for those with celiac disease the only effective treatment is avoiding foods with gluten altogether.
To get your child tested for celiac disease and/or gluten sensitivity, you need to visit your family doctor or a gastroenterologists, who will do a blood test to check for high levels of certain types of antibodies. If his blood test comes back with positive results for celiac disease, the doctor may then choose to do a biopsy of his small intestine to check for damage to the villi. A diagnosis is usually given to using a combination of these diagnostic tests. Gluten sensitivity (as opposed to celiac disease) is sometimes diagnosed if a patient tests negatively for the disorder, yet his or her body to those with celiac disease.