Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is a digestive disorder caused by an immune-system reaction to eating gluten. This disease, which affects 1 in 100 people in the United States, damages the lining of the small intestine and prevents the absorption of essential nutrients from food.

Though there is no cure for Celiac disease, your Digestive Health Center doctor help identify the disease and then manage the symptoms with a gluten-free diet.

What Causes Celiac Disease?

Without clear evidence to explain why, exactly, some people’s immune system responds as it does to gluten, researchers have focused on how Celiac disease runs in families. If you have a parent, child, brother or sister with Celiac, you have a 1 in 10 chance of developing the disease. The disease can develop at any age. It is more likely to affect women than men.

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a mixture of proteins found in barley, wheat, rye and triticale. Oats grown alongside barley, wheat or rye can also contain gluten. When people with Celiac disease consume gluten, their immune system damages villi – small, threadlike projections into the opening of the intestine – that absorb nutrients. This can result in malnutrition and irreversible damage to the intestine.
A gluten-free diet requires guidance from a dietitian because gluten shows up almost anywhere, even in mouthwash, toothpaste, medications, lipstick, communion wafers and Play-Doh.

Common Symptoms of Celiac Disease

When your immune system attacks the small intestine, which extends from the stomach to the large intestine and is responsible for 90 percent of the digestion and absorption of food, it can cause:

  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Loose stool
  • Constipation
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Unexplained short height
  • Swollen ankles
  • Joint pain
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Irregular sleep
  • Bruising, bleeding
  • Skin rash
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Hair loss
  • Missed menstrual periods
  • Bloody nose
  • Mouth ulcer

Additional Health Risks for People with Celiac Disease

If you have Celiac disease, it can also increase your risk of:

  • Addison disease
  • Down syndrome
  • Hashimoto’s disease
  • Intestinal cancer
  • Intestinal lymphoma
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Primary biliary cirrhosis
  • Thyroid disease
  • Type 1 diabetes

What’s the Difference Between Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity?

Someone with gluten sensitivity might experience symptoms similar to Celiac disease, but without any damage to the small intestine.

Diagnosing Celiac Disease

A Celiac disease diagnosis, already difficult because the symptoms can resemble those of other diseases, is even more challenging today because fewer than 45 percent of adult patients have the classic signs: weight loss and diarrhea.

Not surprisingly, it can take some patients months, or even years, before Celiac disease is suspected. The specialists at the Digestive Health Center can help pinpoint Celiac disease with:

Blood tests: An immune-system reaction to gluten can cause high levels of certain antibodies common in Celiac disease.
Genetic tests: If human leukocyte antigens are not present in your blood, it’s unlikely you have Celiac disease.

Upper endoscopy: Your doctor will perform a biopsy, taking tissue samples during an upper endoscopy. If the antibodies that suggest Celiac disease are found, a blood test can confirm the disease.

Make an Appointment

Call to schedule an appointment with a GI specialist at Hartford Hospital.
Ask your doctor for a referral before you call.

Call 833.431.0004

Meet our Celiac Disease Specialists:

Name Specialties Location
Blitzer, Avrum Harry, MD 860.972.0001
  • Gastroenterology
  • Internal Medicine
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  • Hartford
  • Hartford
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Kopec, Krzysztof Lukasz, MD 860.409.4567
  • Gastroenterology
  • Internal Medicine
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  • Farmington
  • New Britain
  • Southington
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Schoenfeld, Adam Craig, MD 860.229.9688
  • Gastroenterology
  • Internal Medicine
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  • New Britain
  • Southington
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Shapiro, Paul Alan, MD 860.243.5600
  • Gastroenterology
  • Internal Medicine
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  • Bloomfield
  • Glastonbury
  • Hartford
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Digestive Health Center