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Adult-Diagnosed Celiac Disease: Better Late Than Never

Posted Dec 20 2008 7:17pm

Hippocrates said “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”. How right he was when it comes to Celiac Disease. I’ve  learned this personally since being diagnosed with Celiac Disease 10 years ago.

Celiac Disease is the only disease where nutrition is both the cause and the “cure”. For 1 in 133, or an estimated 1.5 million Americans, “give us our daily bread” might as well be “give us our daily arsenic”.   Not long ago, Celiac Disease, also known as “Celiac Sprue”  was considered primarily a childhood disease. Today, however, the average age of diagnosis is between 45 and 55 years, with 25% of diagnoses in people 60 years and older. In fact, Celiac Disease is now considered one of the most commonly under-diagnosed genetic disorders despite its relative prevalence.

Typically it takes longer to diagnose adults than children, with the average length of ten years from the initial doctor’s office visit to the date of the actual diagnosis.    This is largely due to the fact that symptoms in adults are more diverse and often more subtle than in children.  In my case, I suffered for years with digestive difficulties which, while annoying and uncomfortable, were mostly tolerable. I had no idea my intestinal issues were part of a larger, systemic problem. It was only after my undiagnosed Celiac Disease led to more serious health issues that I sought medical attention. Even then it took more than a year of doctor visits to uncover the underlying source of my problems.

Further complicating the diagnostic process is the fact that as many as 40% of adults with Celiac Disease lack the textbook intestinal symptoms physicians are most familiar with. My sister, for example, was also diagnosed with Celiac Disease as an adult, but her symptoms were quite different than mine.

The physical and psychological health consequences of Celiac Disease in late-diagnosed adult celiacs can include: unexplained anemia, osteoporosis, intestinal lymphomas and other cancers of the digestive system, pancreatic insufficiency, malnutrition, other autoimmune diseases, depression, infertility, and dental problems, including tooth enamel erosion and periodontal disease. Quite a daunting list and another reason why a correct and timely diagnosis is so critical. 

Fortunately, some of these health consequences are reversible when the celiac patient adheres to a strict gluten-free diet.Unfortunately, adhering to a gluten-free diet is generally more challenging for adults than it is for kids. In a future blog I’ll discuss some of those challenges. In the meantime, for more information on nutrition counseling for Celiac Disease and other conditions, please visit my website at  www.bewellcoaching.com.

Be Well,

Carolyn

      
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