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Celiac disease (also called gluten enteropathy) is an intestinal disorder that results from an abnormal immunological reaction to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and, to a lesser extent, oats.
In addition to damaging the lining of the small intestine, celiac disease can sometimes affect other parts of the body, such as the pancreas (increasing the risk of diabetes), the thyroid gland (increasing the risk of thyroid disease), and the nervous system (increasing the risk of peripheral neuropathies and other neurological disorders). Occasionally, such damage occurs only in one or more of these parts of the body in the absence of damage to the intestines.
Celiac disease may not cause symptoms in some people. However, others may have a history of frequent diarrhea; pale, foul-smelling, bulky stools; abdominal pain, gas, and bloating; weight loss; fatigue; canker sores; muscle cramps; delayed growth or short stature; bone and joint pain; seizures; painful skin rash; or infertility. Microscopic examination of the small-intestinal lining reveals severe damage, especially in the jejunum (the central portion of the small intestines). People with untreated celiac disease may eventually experience malaise and weight loss and have an increased risk of developing anemia, osteoporosis, osteomalacia, and certain types of cancer. In addition to physical symptoms, some people may experience emotional disturbances, including feelings of anxiety and depression.
In one study, children who were breast-fed for less than 30 days were four times more likely to develop celiac disease, compared with children who were breast-fed for more than 30 days.1 Although this study does not prove that breast-feeding prevents the development of celiac disease, it is consistent with other research showing that breast-feeding promotes a healthier gastrointestinal tract than does formula-feeding.2
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The information presented by Healthnotes is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2017.