A piece of wheat with the words "celiac disease."

Common Signs of Celiac Disease You Shouldn’t Ignore

Celiac Disease Symptoms in Adults

If you are struggling with digestive, neurological, or skin issues that just do not seem to be resolving despite the best efforts of you and your doctor, you might want to test to see if you have celiac disease. I come from a family full of people with celiac disease, myself included, so I know just how debilitating it can be, especially if you are living without a diagnosis. Today I want to share what celiac disease is and what the most common celiac disease symptoms in adults are.

What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease (CD) is an autoimmune condition found in about 1% of the population. With CD, the body begins to attack its own tissues due to an allergic response to gluten, a protein found in certain grains. These grains include:

  • Gluten
  • Rye
  • Barley
  • Spelt
  • Kamut
  • Triticale
  • Emmer
  • Durum
  • Semolina
  • Einkorn
  • Farro
  • Farina

When someone with CD eats food containing gluten, it triggers an autoimmune response, which causes damage to the villi and microvilli that line the small intestine. These villi and microvilli are responsible for absorbing vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, and carbohydrates from the foods you eat. When these finger-like projections are damaged, the body becomes unable to digest and absorb these nutrients properly. Eventually, this can lead to malnourishment and debilitating symptoms.

The Development of Celiac Disease

Certain genes predispose some people to develop celiac disease, but not everyone with these genes progresses to full-blown CD.

There is still a lot that is unknown about how the disease develops, but some research indicates that infant feeding practices, the health of your microbiome, and some gastrointestinal infections may trigger the disease in susceptible people.

If you have an immediate family member with celiac disease, you have a 1 in 10 chance of developing the disease yourself. You are also more likely to be diagnosed if you have type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune thyroid disease, Addison's disease, Down's syndrome, or Turner syndrome.

What Signs and Symptoms Should You Look For?

When most people think of celiac disease, they assume that all symptoms will be located in the digestive tract. While many people with celiac certainly have digestive issues, such as diarrhea or chronic constipation, gas, belly bloat, nausea, and vomiting, there are more celiac disease symptoms in adults to look for.

As I mentioned above, at its core, celiac disease can cause malnutrition based on your body's inability to digest and absorb the foods that you are eating. When you are malnourished, the body can experience symptoms that impact every system in the body, from the brain to reproductive health.

In women with celiac disease, especially if it is undiagnosed or not being managed, there is an increased risk of missed periods, infertility, and recurrent miscarriages. If you are struggling with your fertility and your tests are not showing any other complications, it may be worth asking for a celiac test.

Another common symptom to watch for is dry, itchy, or blistering skin. Generally, you will see this rash on the elbows, knees, buttocks, scalp, or torso. People with a celiac rash do not always have digestive issues, so getting tested if you have rashes that will not heal can be a good idea.

You will also want to watch out for canker sores or blisters in the mouth, chronic headaches, fatigue, and aching joints. You may also struggle with iron deficiency anemia or bone loss and softening due to the malabsorption issues present in CD.

Finally, many people with celiac have issues with their nervous system. You might experience numbness or tingling in your hands and feet. Some people struggle with their balance and proprioception, and others experience cognitive impairment. The damage to your intestines and nutrient deficiencies may also cause you to experience brain disorders, such as anxiety, OCD, or depression. I always suggest that folks with unexplained neurological symptoms ask for a celiac test or even experiment with a gluten-free diet.

What Should I Do Post-Diagnosis?

The most important thing to do once you have received a positive diagnosis of celiac disease is to cut out all gluten sources in your diet immediately. Even tiny amounts of gluten can trigger an autoimmune response and continue to damage the small intestine. Take a look at the grains listed above and learn their names. You will want to make sure you do not consume anything that has them on the ingredient list.

Most labels in North America are required to indicate whether a product contains gluten, so make sure you check all labels before you buy foods. Some common sources of gluten in the diet include:

  • Sauces and condiments
  • Spice mixes
  • Lunch meats
  • Potato chips
  • Soups
  • Any baked goods, pasta, cereals, noodles, or crackers made with wheat or gluten grains
  • Beer
  • Anything with "malt"- vinegar, malted milkshakes, malt extract
  • Enriched, whole wheat, all-purpose, bleached, high-gluten, and high-protein flours
  • Bulgar
  • Couscous

After you cut these foods from your diet, the healing can begin. You will want to focus on healing your digestive tract with probiotic foods, bone broths, and foods rich in omega-3 fats to help lower body-wide inflammation.

While it may seem like you have to cut out all your favorite things after your diagnosis, there are many delicious gluten-free options on the market now. Go to the grocery store and start trying out some alternatives until you find the brands you love. The difference you feel in your body and health once you go gluten-free will be worth the change!

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