Medically Reviewed by Dr. David Costa Navarro
What is that
Celiac disease is a chronic disease in which there is an intolerance to gluten, a protein contained in wheat, barley, rye, oats and triticale (hybrid of wheat with rye). Gluten is a protein contained in the grain of cereals mentioned above, while it is not present in two other cereals, corn and rice. Gluten has a toxic effect on the intestines of people with celiac disease, profoundly altering the structure and functionality of the cells of the intestinal wall. This compromises the absorption of food and the state of nutrition of the person suffering from celiac disease. Unabsorbed foods are eliminated from the intestine and this is made evident by an increase in the number of evacuations or by an increase in the volume of feces, which lose their shape and are generally clearer. Celiac disease can occur at any age; diagnoses have become more frequent in adults, starting from 25 years of age and in children the age of appearance of the disease has shifted between 4 and 10 years. The interval between taking gluten and the appearance of the first symptoms is 2-5 months but can vary from 15 days to 8-10 months.
How it manifests itself
In children, the disease can lead to a sudden change in character: the child becomes irritable and disinterested in the environment that surrounds him, starting to refuse food. An enlargement of the abdomen can also occur with an interruption of the increase in weight and height. The stools become abundant, smelly, shiny, clear, rich in water and intestinal discharges become very frequent. Sometimes there may be vomiting and pain in the belly. If these symptoms continue, a state of thinness is established, especially in the buttocks and thighs. In adults, the symptoms of the disease can be more nuanced, making diagnosis more difficult (tiredness, bone pain, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, swelling of the legs and eyelids, small bleeding skin, anemia).
What are the risks
When celiac disease strikes the child, it risks limiting its proper nutrition; this can alter its psychic balance, making it irritable, nervous, reducing its appetite and delaying the development of language. The disease cannot be overcome, but can be controlled by feeding the child with gluten-free foods. In general, the inadequately treated disease leads to insufficient increase in stature and weight, developmental delay, menstrual disorders or lack of menstruation and, in adulthood, anemia, apathy and general weakness, weakening of the skeleton, mental disorders, ulcers and intestinal bleeding.
What should be done
- The celiac disease patient cannot recover from the disease but can control it very well provided that he eliminates from the diet all the foods that contain the gluten present in wheat, rye, barley, oats and triticale.
- The gluten-free diet must be maintained throughout life.
- Carefully follow the dietary advice in the Dietary Scheme (on the website of the Italian Celiac Association).
- In order to help people with celiac disease to overcome the many difficulties encountered in daily life.