Celiac Disease: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment Options

Celiac Disease: Understanding the Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options: Celiac disease is a chronic auto-immune disorder, in which an individual’s small intestine becomes sensitive to gluten. The other name for this ailment is celiac sprue or non-tropical sprue.

Celiac Disease

There is a protein known as gluten present in the food articles such as wheat, rye, and some other grains which helps in providing a chewy texture to the gluten food. When someone suffering from Gluten disease eats something containing gluten. This protein damages the walls and villi of the small intestine, making it less susceptible to absorbing nutrition. This leads to some complications such as malnutrition, loss of bone density, etc.

Celiac Disease: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment Options

What are the causes of Celiac Disease?

  • Family History: Celiac disease tends to run in families, suggesting a hereditary component. Having a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) with celiac disease increases the risk of developing the condition.
  • Genetic Predisposition: celiac disease is associated with specific human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genes, particularly HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8. About 95% of individuals with celiac disease carry the HLA-DQ2 gene, while most of the remaining individuals carry the HLA-DQ8 gene. These genes play a crucial role in presenting gluten peptides to the immune system.
  • Environmental Trigger (Gluten): The consumption of gluten-containing foods is the environmental trigger for celiac disease. Gluten is composed of two main protein fractions: gliadins and glutenins. Gliadins, in particular, contain peptide sequences that are highly resistant to digestion by enzymes in the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Age of Gluten Introduction: Introducing gluten to an infant’s diet before the age of three to four months has been suggested as a possible risk factor for celiac disease development. Delaying the introduction of gluten until after six months of age, while still controversial, may help reduce the risk.
  • Immune Activation: When individuals with celiac disease consume gluten, the gliadin component reaches the small intestine. Within the intestinal lumen, tissue transglutaminase (tTG), an enzyme present in the intestine, modifies the gliadin peptides, making them more immunogenic. These modified peptides are then presented to immune cells, specifically CD4+ T cells, by antigen-presenting cells (APCs) in the lamina propria of the small intestine.
  • Adaptive Immune Response: The gluten peptides presented by APCs bind to the HLA-DQ2 or HLA-DQ8 molecules on the surface of CD4+ T cells. This interaction activates the CD4+ T cells, releasing pro-inflammatory cytokines, such as interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) and interleukin-21 (IL-21). These cytokines contribute to the inflammation and tissue damage in the small intestine.
  • Inflammatory Response: The pro-inflammatory cytokines released by CD4+ T cells trigger an immune response, leading to the recruitment of other immune cells, including B cells, natural killer cells, and neutrophils. These cells further amplify the inflammatory response and contribute to tissue damage.
  • Autoantibody Production: In addition to the inflammatory response, individuals with celiac disease produce autoantibodies, specifically tissue transglutaminase antibodies (anti-tTG IgA and IgG) and anti-endomysial antibodies (EMA). These antibodies target the tTG enzyme in the intestinal tissue and endomysium, further promoting inflammation and tissue damage.
  • Small Intestinal Damage: Over time, the chronic inflammation and immune response in the small intestine lead to damage and destruction of the villi, which are small finger-like projections that line the intestinal wall. The villi play a crucial role in absorbing nutrients from food. When they are damaged, the absorptive surface area is reduced, resulting in the malabsorption of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Gluten Consumption: The primary trigger for celiac disease is the ingestion of gluten-containing foods which include wheat, barley, and other grains. The immune system of individuals with celiac disease reacts abnormally to gluten, leading to damage to the small intestine.
  • Other Medical Conditions: Individuals with certain autoimmune disorders, such as type 1 diabetes, autoimmune thyroid disease, and Down syndrome, have a higher risk of developing celiac disease. The presence of these conditions indicates an increased susceptibility to autoimmune disorders in general.
  • Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity: Some individuals who do not meet the diagnostic criteria for celiac disease may still experience symptoms when consuming gluten. This condition, known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity, shares some symptoms with celiac disease but lacks the characteristic immune response and intestinal damage.
  • Epigenetic Factors: Epigenetic modifications, which can influence gene expression without altering the DNA sequence, may play a role in the development of celiac disease. Early-life nutrition and exposure to toxins are some environmental factors that may affect epigenetic changes that increase the risk of developing the disease.
  • Gut Microbiota: The composition of the gut microbiota has been suggested to influence the development of celiac disease. Alterations in the gut microbiota early in life may impact immune system development and tolerance to gluten.
  • Dietary Factors: Some studies have suggested that the timing of gluten introduction during infancy, the amount and duration of gluten exposure, and the diversity of an individual’s diet may influence the risk of developing celiac disease. However, the evidence is not conclusive.

For Reference:- https://www.nhs.uk/

What are the symptoms of celiac disease?

Celiac disease can manifest with various symptoms in both adults and children. It’s important to note that symptoms can vary widely among individuals, and some individuals may experience no symptoms at all, a condition known as silent celiac disease. Here are the common symptoms seen in adults and children:

Symptoms in Adults:

Gastrointestinal Symptoms:

  • Chronic diarrhea or constipation
  • Abdominal pain and bloating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Flatulence (excessive gas)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)-like symptoms

Malabsorption-Related Symptoms:

  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Nutritional deficiencies (iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium)
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Anemia (iron deficiency or other types)
  • Osteoporosis or osteopenia (weakening of the bones)
  • Easy bruising and bleeding tendencies
  • Muscle cramps and joint pain

Non-Gastrointestinal Symptoms:

  • Dermatitis herpetiformis (skin rash characterized by itchy, blistering lesions)
  • Migraines and headaches
  • Peripheral neuropathy (numbness or tingling in the extremities)
  • Cognitive impairment (brain fog, difficulty concentrating)
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Infertility or recurrent miscarriages
  • Dental enamel defects

Symptoms in Children

Gastrointestinal Symptoms:

  • Chronic diarrhea or loose stools
  • Abdominal distension and bloating
  • Poor appetite or decreased food intake
  • Failure to thrive (poor weight gain or growth)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation

Malabsorption-Related Symptoms:

  • Irritability and mood changes
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Delayed puberty or growth delay
  • Short stature
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies (iron, calcium, vitamin D)
  • Dental enamel defects (pitting or yellowing of teeth)

Non-Gastrointestinal Symptoms:

  • Dermatitis herpetiformis (skin rash)
  • Behavioral changes (irritability, hyperactivity)
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)-like symptoms
  • Delayed or impaired cognitive development
  • Delayed or absent menstruation (in teenage girls)
  • Autoimmune disorders (e.g., type 1 diabetes, thyroiditis)

The onset and severity of symptoms can vary among individuals. Some individuals may experience symptoms in childhood and continue to have them into adulthood, while others may develop symptoms later in life. Additionally, as previously mentioned, some individuals may not experience any noticeable symptoms despite having celiac disease.

For Reference:- https://celiac.org/about-celiac-disease/symptoms-of-celiac-disease/

For Reference:- https://www.niddk.nih.gov/

What are the test and diagnostic measures for celiac disease?

The diagnosis of celiac disease involves a combination of medical history evaluation, physical examination, serological tests, and confirmatory procedures. Here are a few tests and diagnostic process for celiac disease:

Medical History and Physical Examination:

A healthcare professional will start by taking a detailed medical history, including symptoms, family history of celiac disease, and any other relevant medical conditions.

A physical examination may be performed to assess for signs of malnutrition, nutrient deficiencies, or other associated conditions.

Serological Tests:

Serological tests are the initial screening tests for celiac disease and involve the detection of specific antibodies in the blood.

  • IgA Antitissue Transglutaminase (anti-tTG) Antibodies: This is the most commonly used screening test. Elevated levels of anti-tTG antibodies indicate an immune response to gluten.
  • Total Serum IgA: Since anti-tTG antibodies are predominantly of the IgA type, measuring total serum IgA levels helps identify individuals with IgA deficiency, as they may not produce detectable levels of anti-tTG antibodies.

HLA Typing:

If serological tests are positive, HLA typing may be done to assess genetic predisposition. The presence of HLA-DQ2 and/or HLA-DQ8 genes supports the possibility of celiac disease, but their absence makes it highly unlikely.

Endoscopic Biopsy:

If serological tests and HLA typing indicate a high likelihood of celiac disease, an endoscopic biopsy of the small intestine is performed to confirm the diagnosis.

During an endoscopy, a thin, flexible tube with a camera is inserted through the mouth and into the small intestine.

Multiple biopsies are taken from the lining of the small intestine, specifically from the duodenum.

The biopsies are examined under a microscope to assess the presence of characteristic changes associated with celiac diseases, such as villous atrophy, crypt hyperplasia, and infiltration of immune cells.

Histopathological Analysis:

The biopsied tissue samples are examined by a pathologist who assesses the degree of damage to the intestinal lining.

  • Marsh Classification System: The pathologist may use the Marsh classification system to grade the severity of intestinal damage. It categorizes the changes into different stages (Marsh stages 0 to 4), with Marsh stage 3 (villous atrophy) being the characteristic finding in celiac disease.

Additional Testing:

In some cases, additional tests may be performed to evaluate associated conditions or complications related to celiac diseases, such as bone density measurement (dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry), blood tests to assess nutritional deficiencies, or screening for other autoimmune disorders.

It’s important to note that for an accurate diagnosis, a person needs to be on a gluten-containing diet before undergoing serological tests and endoscopic biopsy. Going on a gluten-free diet before testing can lead to false-negative results.

Once a diagnosis of celiac disease is confirmed, the primary treatment involves strict adherence to a lifelong gluten-free diet, which effectively manages the condition and prevents further damage to the small intestine. Regular follow-up and monitoring with healthcare professionals, including dietitians with expertise in celiac disease, are essential for proper management and support.

For Reference:- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3496881/

What is the treatment and management of celiac disease?

The primary treatment for celiac disease is strict adherence to a lifelong gluten-free diet. Here are some diet options for managing celiac disease:

  • Gluten-Free Diet: The cornerstone of celiac disease management is the complete avoidance of gluten-containing foods. This includes eliminating wheat, barley, rye, and their derivatives from the diet. It is important to read food labels carefully, as gluten can be present in various processed foods, condiments, and even medications.
  • Education and Nutritional Counseling: Working with a registered dietitian who specializes in celiac disease can provide valuable education and guidance on following a gluten-free diet. They can help identify safe food choices, assist with meal planning, and address any nutritional deficiencies that may arise.
  • Gluten-Free Food Substitutes: There are now numerous gluten-free alternatives available for commonly gluten-containing foods. These include gluten-free flour (e.g., rice flour, almond flour), gluten-free bread, pasta, cereals, and baking mixes. However, it’s important to ensure that these substitutes are certified gluten-free to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Monitoring and Avoiding Cross-Contamination: Preventing cross-contamination is crucial to maintaining a strict gluten-free diet. This involves being vigilant about avoiding contamination of gluten-free foods with gluten during food preparation, cooking utensils, cutting boards, and shared kitchen surfaces. Separate toasters, condiment containers, and food storage areas for gluten-free products are recommended.
  • Medication Review: Some medications and supplements may contain gluten as a filler or binding agent. It is important to review all medications, including over-the-counter drugs and supplements, with a healthcare professional to ensure they are gluten-free.
  • Ongoing Follow-Up Care: Regular follow-up visits with healthcare professionals, such as gastroenterologists and dietitians, are essential for monitoring the response to the gluten-free diet, assessing nutrient levels, and addressing any concerns or challenges that may arise.
  • Nutritional Supplements: In some cases, individuals with celiac disease may require nutritional supplements to address specific deficiencies. Common supplements may include iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, and folic acid. Supplementation should be personalized based on individual nutrient levels and guided by healthcare professionals.
  • Gluten-Free Dining and Traveling: Dining out and traveling can pose challenges for individuals with celiac disease. It is important to research and communicates with restaurants to ensure safe gluten-free options. When traveling, carrying gluten-free snacks and meal options can help maintain a strict gluten-free diet.
  • Support Groups and Online Communities: Joining support groups or engaging in online communities of individuals with celiac disease can provide valuable emotional support, practical tips, and a platform to share experiences and information.
  • Ongoing Education and Research: Staying informed about the latest research, medical advancements, and gluten-free food products can help individuals with celiac disease navigate their condition more effectively. Attending conferences, seminars, or workshops on celiac disease can provide valuable insights and updates.

For Reference:- https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coeliac-disease/treatment/

For Reference:- https://www.niddk.nih.gov/

It’s important to note that the effectiveness of the gluten-free diet varies among individuals, and some may experience ongoing symptoms or complications despite strict adherence. In such cases, additional evaluation and support from healthcare professionals may be necessary.

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FAQs Related to Celiac Disease

What should not be eaten if you have celiac disease?

Celiacs should avoid food products such as bread, pasta, cereals, biscuits, and food containing bulgar, semolina, pies, sauces, etc. as these food products contain gluten and its derivatives.

Which organ is at the most risk if you have celiac disease?

If you have celiac disease, then your small intestine is at most risk. The gluten that triggers the immune response in people having celiac disease also damages the wall and villi of the small intestine, therefore, making it unable to perform its function furthermore till recovery.

What is the frequency of celiac disease in America?

One percent of the American population is having celiac disease. That is 1 in every 133 people is suffering from celiac disease.

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