Celiac Disease
Healthy Eating and Exercise

Understanding Celiac Disease

99% of people won’t give any thought to the amount wheat, barley, or rye in the food or beverages they consume. But for the 1% percent of people with celiac disease, also known as celiac sprue or gluten-sensitive enteropathy, staying alert is really important.

That’s because they’re allergic to gluten – a protein found in grains like wheat or barley – that can hurt the small intestine. When ignored or misdiagnosed, celiac disease can lead to some long-term health problems.

Celiac disease 101

The exact cause of celiac disease is not fully understood, but it is believed to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. People with a family history of celiac disease are more likely to develop the condition. Other triggers include a viral infection, surgery, or significant emotional stress.

Celiac disease causes damage to the lining of the small intestine, making it hard to absorb nutrients. This can result in a range of symptoms, including:

  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting

In some cases, celiac disease can also lead to other health problems, such as anemia, osteoporosis, and infertility. It is considered an autoimmune disorder.


Children with celiac disease are more likely to have digestive problems than adults. They can also have additional symptoms like:

  • Swollen belly
  • Pale, foul-smelling stools
  • Delayed puberty
  • Damage to tooth enamel
  • Anemia
  • Irritability
  • Short stature
  • Neurological symptoms

See your doctor if your diarrhea or digestive discomfort persists for more than two weeks. See your child’s doctor if your child has foul-smelling, bulky stools, and a potbelly. Do not change diets until your doctor can test you or your child for an accurate diagnosis.


The most effective treatment for celiac disease is a strict gluten-free diet. This involves avoiding all foods that contain wheat, barley, and rye, as well as any products that may have come in contact with gluten during processing. This can be difficult, as gluten is often found in unexpected foods such as soy sauce, beer, and even some medicines.

Fortunately, there are now many gluten-free products available, and with some planning and preparation, it is possible to maintain a healthy and varied diet. It is important for people with celiac disease to work with a registered dietitian to ensure they are getting all the nutrients they need.

In addition to a gluten-free diet, people with celiac disease may also benefit from taking vitamin and mineral supplements, particularly if they have been experiencing nutrient deficiencies.

Some people may also need to take medication to manage their symptoms.

The cure

There is currently no cure for celiac disease, but with the right treatment, most people with the condition can lead healthy, normal lives. It is important for people with celiac disease to continue to follow a strict gluten-free diet even if they are feeling well, as consuming gluten can lead to a relapse of symptoms and further damage to the small intestine.

It is also important to be aware of the potential risks associated with the condition. For example, people with celiac disease may be at higher risk of developing other autoimmune disorders, such as type 1 diabetes and thyroid disease. They may also be at higher risk of certain cancers, such as lymphoma.

Your complete well-being

Your AltaMed physician can help you identify food allergies with regular visits and treatment histories. We also have registered dieticians who can build a gluten-free diet and get you on a path to feeling better and keeping your celiac disease under control. Call us today at (888) 499-9303 for more information.

Get started with AltaMed

See how AltaMed Health Services can help your family grow healthy.

Learn More

Understanding Celiac Disease