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The Overlooked Symptoms of Celiac Disease

Posted May 01 2013 9:00am

May is Celiac Awareness Month

May is Celiac Awareness Month, and we’re holding a monthlong giveaway to celebrate!  Enter to win a prize package including your favorite flavor Zing bars and a Zing T-shirt. Simply “like” our Facebook page to enter. Winner will be drawn on June 1st. 

The prevalence for Celiac Disease in the United States has been described as this: the number would fill 936 cruise ships, those in 908 of those ships wouldn’t know they have it.  May is National Celiac Awareness Month, and judging by the number of people undiagnosed, it seems we have a long way to go toward spreading awareness of the disease.

Celiac disease is a serious condition that affects the lining of the small intestine, and comes from the body’s immune response to the protein found in wheat and other grains from this plant family. This protein, gluten, is also found in barley, rye, farro, spelt and other related grains. The immune response in the small intestine damages the absorptive lining, making the person susceptible to malnutrition because they are unable to absorb essential vitamins and minerals. The only “cure” for celiac is a lifelong gluten-free diet, allowing the small intestine to heal.

So if celiac is so serious, why aren’t all those people being diagnosed?  The problem is that celiac may present with over 300 symptoms , or no symptoms at all! If you had chronic fatigue and iron deficiency, but no digestive problems, would your doctor suspect celiac disease? As we learned from Zing co-founder Sandy Kaplan’s story , you’re more likely to be sent home with an iron supplement than ordered a blood test for celiac disease.

Another difficulty with diagnosing celiac disease is that the “gold standard” way to diagnose is with an endoscopy and biopsy.  The blood test usually given is a first step, and then if antibody levels of tTG, EMA and DGP are elevated, a biopsy is ordered. However, the initial blood test is frequently false-negative and even if a biopsy is eventually done, the gastroenterologist may not being taking enough samples for a correct diagnosis. A recent article highlighted this issue.

In my own experiences working with patients and primary care doctors, I’ve noticed that there are many symptoms that are frequently overlooked.  In the health care community there are certain symptoms that are thought of as hallmarks of celiac disease, but others that may fly under the radar.

Considered “usual” symptoms:

  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Unexplained malnutrition
  • Osteoporosis
  • Chronic underweight/weight loss
  • Chronic skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis
  • Recurring abdominal bloating/pain

Often overlooked:

  • Unexplained infertifility/miscarriage
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Anxiety/depression
  • Iron-deficiency anemia unresponsive to iron therapy
  • Delayed puberty
  • Pain in the joints
  • Pale, foul-smelling stool
  • Pale sores inside the mouth
  • Migraines
  • Psoriasis
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Crohn’s Disease
  • Candida infections

Here is a complete list of over 300 symptoms that may be related to Celiac disease. Have you had any experiences with overlooked symptoms or know someone who has? Comment here!

Christine Weiss MS, RD is a dietitian and Bastyr University graduate who counsels people dealing with food allergies, diabetes and digestive issues.  She enjoys working with Zing Bars to raise awareness about healthy living through online media. She can be found at  Eating It Up  online.

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