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Celiac Disease Symptoms and Treatment

Updated on January 6, 2010

Celiac Disease, is a chronic disorder of infants and children characterized by an impaired absorption of food materials. The major symptom is diarrhea, and the stool is generally fatty, bulky, and foul-smelliing. Associated with the diarrhea is a loss of nutrients, leading to nutritional deficiencies. The major problem is concerned with the malabsorption of fat.

For many years, the cause of celiac disease was unknown, but it is now recognized that afflicted patients are usually sensitive to certain proteins, called glutens, which are found in wheat, rye, and oats. There is some evidence suggesting that the disease is due to an inherited defect of some kind, but the exact mechanism is still unknown. Celiac disease occurs almost exclusively in white children. It is uncommon in Negroes and has never been found in Orientals. In recent years, a malabsorption disorder of adults has been recognized as a sensitivity to gluten. This disorder, once called non-tropical sprue, is now called adult celiac disease.


The severity of celiac disease may vary enormously, from a mild digestive disturbance to a serious and debilitating wasting disease. The onset usually occurs gradually at the end of the first year of life and becomes full blown in the second year. In addition to the diarrhea, the child often has a poor appetite and does not grow normally. He may also become irritable and moody. As he grows older, retardation in growth and development becomes more evident, and there is a weight loss, usually most marked in the limbs and around the buttocks and groin. Although the face often remains full and plump, the child often looks pale, and there may be a puffiness around the eyes. The abdomen is generally enlarged and distended.

Gluten is found in barley and rye as well as wheat. So when checking food labels, don't assume that "wheat-free" means "gluten-free".


Treatment consists of placing the child on a gluten-free diet. If this diet is strictly followed, there may be a complete remission of the symptoms, and by the replacement of lost nutrients all signs of deficiency disappear. Most children improve spontaneously in adolescence and adult life, although there may an occasional later recurrence.

Please Note:

  • The information provided on this page is not intended as a substitute for the advice of a registered physician or other healthcare professional.

  • The content of this page is intended only to provide a summary and general overview. Do not use this information to disregard medical advice, nor to delay seeking medical advice.

  • Be sure to consult with your doctor for a professional diagnosis and appropriate medical treatment.


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    • Health-n-Fitness profile image

      Health-n-Fitness 7 years ago

      Thank you for your valuable feedback and input Jacqui.

    • JacquiD profile image

      JacquiD 7 years ago

      Just a few things..

      Celiac's can happen in adults. Although it's usually there from the time you are born, some people get the gene "activated" by a trauma, such as child birth, and most people aren't diagnosed until they are in their teens or even middle aged, because the symptoms are minimal or not present during childhood. Basically, you can be diagnosed at any age.

      The symptoms also go way beyond diarrhea (including bipolar disorder, growing pains, skin rashes, miscarriages, etc). It takes time for your body to build these symptoms through malabsorption of all vitamins, minerals, fats, and basically everything you eat. Many people end up with pernicious anemia (B12 deficiency). Some people also present no external symptoms until cancer or anemia develops years later.

      OK most importantly, the protein gluten (gliadin, more specifically) is found in wheat, rye and barley, while oats are just cross-contaminated with wheat during the growing process.

      I just wanted to correct some misinformation there.

      Other than that, I'm really glad are trying to get the word out about this! It really is a growing problem and making people aware can really save someone's life.