300,000 people in Canada live with celiac disease – 7500 people in Victoria, Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. The autoimmune disorder, which causes damage to the small intestine when gluten is ingested, often gets misrepresented as a simple dietary restriction. When people affected by celiac disease were asked by The Mighty and the Celiac Disease Foundation what they wished others could understand about the condition, this is what they had to say.
Celiac disease occurs in individuals with a genetic predisposition for making antibodies to gluten. When gluten protein – found in wheat, barley and rye – is ingested, autoimmune antibodies not only attack the gluten, they also damage the lining of the small intestine. Symptoms may include digestive pain, constipation, diarrhea and fatigue. The resulting malabsortion of nutrients can lead to slowed growth and development in children and anemia, osteoporosis and fertility issues in adults. Untreated celiacs are also at an increased risk of developing digestive cancers and other autoimmune diseases. The only treatment is a strict gluten-free diet for life. The world-wide incidence of Celiac disease is estimated at 1 in 100. Sadly, less than 5% will be properly diagnosed in their lifetimes despite the existence of a simple, prescreening blood test.
There are two pre-screening blood tests that can determine whether your body makes the antibodies that are associated with Celiac disease:
- • tTg: IgA anti-transglutaminase antibody test
- • Total Serum IgA
While these blood tests are very sensitive, they are not 100% accurate. If the tTg test is positive or the IgA test shows a deficiency, a duodenal biopsy is required to make a diagnosis. Collected under mild sedation, evidence of damage to the lining of the small intestine is definitive proof of Celiac disease.
*Blood tests and intestinal biopsies are diagnostic services that are provided at no charge to residents of British Columbia. See Medical Services Plan.
Ask to be tested if you have unexplained iron deficiency, osteoporosis, brittle type 1 DM, a family history of Celiac disease, have experienced 3 months of frequent diarrhea, weight loss, dairy intolerance or exceptional gas and bloating.
Acknowledgment goes to The Mighty for this article.