Have you heard of celiac disease? Most people haven’t, but knowing about it could change the lives of many who suffer from undiagnosed intestinal distress. That’s why yesterday the NIH launched a Celiac Awareness Campaign.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune response to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Symptoms vary, and they range from gas, diarrhea and abdominal pain, to delayed growth, certain skin rashes, infertility and osteoporosis. Some people develop symptoms as children, others after an event such as an infection, a physical injury, pregnancy, severe stress or surgery.
Celiac disease is commonly under- or misdiagnosed, because its symptoms are similar to those of other diseases. Celiac disease may be confused with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), iron-deficiency anemia, ulcers, Crohn’s disease, diverticulitis, intestinal infections, and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
Treatment for celiac disease is simple: a gluten-free diet. Many people with celiac disease experience almost immediate relief of gastrointestinal symptoms once they begin a gluten-free diet.
Although celiac disease can affect anyone, it tends to be more common in people of European descent and people with autoimmune disorders. Studies have shown there is a genetic predisposition to developing celiac disease, and a large majority of people with the disease have at least one copy of a gene, called HLA-DR3.*
How common is celiac disease? From NIDDK educational materials: “Recent findings estimate about 2 million people in the United States have celiac disease, or about 1 in 133 people. Among people who have a first-degree relative diagnosed with celiac disease, as many as 1 in 22 people may have the disease.”
Says Griffin P. Rodgers, M.D., the acting director of NIDDK, the NIH branch leading the awareness campaign: “We now know that celiac disease is more prevalent that previously thought — affecting nearly 1 percent of the U.S. population — and remains under-diagnosed. Through the campaign, we hope to increase physician awareness of the disease, resulting in earlier diagnosis and better outcomes for celiac patients.”