One of the most misunderstood and confusing diseases nowadays, both to doctors and its sufferers, is celiac disease. Also called gluten-sensitive enteropathy or simply celiac, celiac disease is an immune reaction that triggers when you eat gluten, a type of protein that’s usually found in wheat, barley, and most grains and starches. When a person with celiac disease ingests gluten, it damages the lining of the small intestine (called villi), and when this damage accumulates over time, it prevents the absorption of some nutrients. It may also lead to severe diarrhea, weight loss, and anemia, among other serious health complications.

Right now, there isn’t any cure for celiac disease. However, most people are able to manage their symptoms by following a gluten-free diet, which also promotes intestinal health and healing.

A Gluten-Free Diet and Lifestyle

A gluten-free diet may seem limiting because you aren’t allowed to eat certain foods. However, there are a lot of naturally gluten-free foods, which include fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish and other seafoods, dairy, beans, legumes, and nuts. You can even drink delicious nut milks if you aren’t as fond of snacking on nuts and still want to reap their health benefits. Fruit juices, soda, sports drinks, wines, and distilled liquors are also gluten-free. There are also various grain products that don’t have gluten. Rice, corn, potato, quinoa, millet, flax, chia seeds, and arrowroot are just a few examples.

What you do have to avoid are products that contain wheat, barley, couscous, durum, farina, graham flour, rye, semolina, and malt, among others. This means that most breads, crackers, baked goods, traditionally prepared pasta dishes, as well as beers, ales, and other alcoholic beverages made from grains that contain gluten are off limits. Consult with a dietitian to know for sure which foods you can eat, and if there are gluten-free alternatives to some of your favorite foods.

You also have to be more observant since gluten may also be present in some candies, food preservatives, medications, vitamin and mineral supplements, herbal medicines, and even lipsticks, toothpastes, and mouthwashes.

Diagnosis and Recovery from Celiac Disease

The problem with celiac disease is that it takes a long time to be diagnosed properly, so you may be an unknowing patient and ingest gluten for years before intervention. However, once the disease is diagnosed through serology and genetic testing, and a biopsy of tissues from your small intestine, you can soon begin a gluten-free diet for treatment. Once you do, the inflammation in your small intestine will generally lessen within several weeks. You may also experience fewer symptoms, like stomach discomfort, within just a few days. Younger patients also tend to recover faster than older ones, as is the nature of cell recovery.

Patients also need to report to their doctors regularly to know how their bodies are reacting to the gluten-free diet. Usually, it takes 6 to 12 months for your body to be completely gluten-free. Depending on test results, you may also need to take supplements for vitamins B, D, and K, calcium, folate, iron, and/or zinc to ensure your overall health. If your digestive tract cannot absorb these vitamins and minerals properly, you may have to receive them intravenously. However, if you are given the go-signal to take pills or tablets, make sure to inform your pharmacist to give you gluten-free supplements.

You should also visit your doctor for follow up treatments, especially if you continue to experience symptoms even after months of a gluten-free diet, or if your symptoms have already eased and then relapsed. This may be a sign of refractory celiac disease, which requires additional treatment like steroid therapy.

What makes it difficult to diagnose celiac disease is that it can also manifest in other ways, like itchy skin rashes, headaches and joint pain, mouth ulcers, acid reflux, and an upset stomach, which are also symptoms of other health problems. This is why it takes an average of 6 to 10 years to be properly diagnosed with celiac disease, and only around 20 percent of patients are properly diagnosed and treated.

However, once you know for sure that you have the disease, it’s only a matter maintaining your new gluten-free diet and lifestyle and keeping up with your regular doctor’s appointments. With a little discipline, you can live a healthy, normal life even with celiac disease.

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