What’s Celiac Disease? Causes,& Symptoms


 10 minutes read. 

Celiac disease is defined as an autoimmune disorder originating from an aberrant adaptive immune response against gluten-containing grains in susceptible individuals.

 Celiac disease was first described in 1888 by Samuel Gee, but only in 1953, it became clear the importance of gluten in the origin of this pathology. (1)

Celiac disease is a multisystem autoimmune disease induced by gluten protein found in wheat, barley, and rye.

I wrote this article to help you understand what celiac disease is, its causes, possible symptom to look out for, how you can treat it, risk factors, and safety precautions to follow. Perhaps what you will learn today will help you and your loved ones. Feel free to skip ahead.

What’s Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is a type of serious food allergy and autoimmune condition that’s caused by consuming a type of protein called gluten, which is found in wheat, rye, barley, and many processed products that contain gluten as an additive.

Symptoms of celiac disease are widespread and affect the entire body, including the immune and digestive systems. (2)

Celiac disease is also called celiac sprue, nontropical sprue, or gluten-sensitive enteropathy.

In a more understanding term, celiac disease is a chronic hereditary intestinal disorder in which an inability to absorb the gliadin portion of gluten results in the gliadin triggering an immune response that damages the intestinal mucosa. (3)

The common symptoms are lethargy and diarrhea hence the name celiac sprue.


What causes Celiac disease?

Scientific research has shown that celiac disease as an autoimmune reaction is partly inherited (genetic disorders).

That means a particular gene mutation that’s passed down through family lines makes you more susceptible to developing it.

But not everyone with the gene mutation develops the disease, and not everyone who develops it has one of the known.

Your genes combined with eating foods containing gluten, also other factors can contribute to celiac disease, but the precise cause isn’t known yet (4,5)

Infant-feeding practices, gastrointestinal infections, and gut bacteria might contribute, as well. Sometimes celiac disease becomes active after surgery, pregnancy, childbirth, viral infection, or severe emotional stress.

Your body’s immune system may overreact to gluten in food containing gluten, the reaction may damage the tiny, hairlike projections (villi) that line the small intestine leading to a health problem called celiac disease.

Villi absorb vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients from the food you eat. If your villi are damaged, you can’t get enough nutrients, no matter how much you eat.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of celiac disease can vary greatly and differ in children and adults.  If you’re an adult you should look out for the following signs and symptoms:

  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Bloating and gas
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation

However, more than half the adults with celiac disease have signs and symptoms unrelated to the digestive system, such as:

  • Anemia, usually from iron deficiency
  • Loss of bone density (osteoporosis) or softening of the bone (osteomalacia)
  • Itchy, blistery skin rash (dermatitis herpetiformis)
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Headaches and fatigue
  • Nervous system injury, including numbness and tingling in the feet and hands, possible problems with balance, and cognitive impairment
  • Joint pain
  • Reduced functioning of the spleen (hyposplenism) (6)

Signs and Symptoms in Children

Children with celiac disease are more likely than adults to have digestive problems, including:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Swollen belly
  • Constipation
  • Gas
  • Pale, foul-smelling stools. (4, 7,8)

What’s Dermatitis herpetiformis?

Dermatitis herpetiformis is a long-term(chronic) condition that causes itchy bumps and blisters on your skin as a result of gluten sensitivity.

Gluten intolerance can cause this itchy, blistering skin disease. The rash usually occurs on the elbows, knees, torso, scalp, and buttocks.

This condition is often associated with changes to the lining of the small intestine identical to those of celiac disease, but the skin condition might not cause digestive symptoms. (9, 10)

Doctors treat dermatitis herpetiformis with a gluten-free diet or medication, or both, to control the rash. (4)

Risk Factors

Who is at risk of getting celiac disease?

You’re more likely to have celiac disease if you:

  • Are white.
  • Have a relative who has it.
  • Have a chromosomal disorder such as Turner syndrome, Williams’s syndrome, or Down syndrome.
  • Have another autoimmune disease, such as Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, microscopic colitis, or Addison’s disease.
  • Microscopic colitis (lymphocytic or collagenous colitis). (11)


Can celiac disease lead to serious health complications?

Untreated, celiac disease can cause:

  • Malnutrition; occurs if your small intestine can’t absorb enough nutrients. Malnutrition can lead to anemia and weight loss. In children, malnutrition can cause slow growth and short stature. (17, 18)
  • Bone weakening; malabsorption of calcium and vitamin D can lead to a softening of the bone (osteomalacia or rickets) in children and a loss of bone density (osteopenia or osteoporosis) in adults. (16)
  • Infertility and miscarriage; malabsorption of calcium and vitamin D can contribute to reproductive issues. (15)
  • Lactose intolerance; damage to your small intestine might cause you abdominal pain and diarrhea after eating or drinking dairy products that contain lactose. Once your intestine has healed, you might be able to tolerate dairy products again. (12)
  • Cancer; People with celiac disease who don’t maintain a gluten-free diet have a greater risk of developing several forms of cancer, including intestinal lymphoma and small bowel cancer. (6, 13, 14)
  • Nervous system problems; Some people with celiac disease can develop problems such as seizures or a disease of the nerves in the hands and feet (peripheral neuropathy). (19)

What’s Nonresponsive celiac disease?

In a more understanding term, Nonresponsive celiac disease was defined as a failure to respond to at least 6 months of treatment with a gluten-free diet or the re-emergence of symptoms or laboratory abnormalities typical of celiac disease while still on treatment with a gluten-free diet. (20, 21)

Nonresponsive celiac disease is often due to contamination of the diet with gluten. Working with a dietitian can help you learn how to avoid all gluten.

The reason people with nonresponsive celiac disease don’t respond to treatment is that they may have other issues such as:

  • Bacteria in the small intestine (bacterial overgrowth)
  • Microscopic colitis
  • Poor pancreas function (pancreatic insufficiency)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Difficulty digesting sugar found in dairy products (lactose), table sugar (sucrose), or a type of sugar found in honey and fruits (fructose)
  • Refractory celiac disease

What’s Refractory celiac disease?

Refractory celiac disease (RCD) is a malabsorption syndrome defined by persisting villous atrophy with, usually, an increase of intraepithelial lymphocytes (IELs) in the small bowel in spite of a strict gluten-free diet. (22)

In rare instances, the intestinal injury of celiac disease doesn’t respond to a strict gluten-free diet. This is known as refractory celiac disease.

If you still have signs and symptoms after following a gluten-free diet for six months to one year, you might need further testing to look for other explanations for your symptoms.

I hope you’re getting value.

How to diagnose celiac?

How’s celiac disease diagnosed?

Celiac disease can be diagnosed in two different methods:

First method: is blood testing. A medical lab scientist tests a sample of your blood for the gluten antibodies that damage your intestines.

The second Method: is biopsy; they’ll look for the damage itself. This requires taking a small tissue sample from your small intestine (biopsy) to examine under a microscope.

To take the sample, a gastroenterologist will perform an endoscopic exam of your small intestine.

Endoscopic procedures involve passing a tiny camera through your body on the end of a long, thin catheter.

An upper endoscopy passes the endoscope down your throat into the first part of your small intestine. Guided by the camera, the endoscopist can pass tools through the catheter to take a biopsy.

Then after confirmation of celiac disease, the scientist will want to test your blood for specific vitamin and mineral deficiencies.  (4, 6)

Because severe deficiencies can have wide-ranging effects on your body and may need to be treated directly with supplements.

 Common findings include iron-deficiency anemia, vitamin-deficiency anemia, and vitamin D deficiency. You may also be low in electrolytes, such as calcium.


How to treat celiac disease?

The most important step to take if you want to cure celiac disease is to stop eating food containing gluten. (23 , 2)

You can’t change the way your body reacts to gluten, but you can prevent gluten from triggering that reaction.

When you stop eating gluten, your small intestine will begin to heal and will soon be able to absorb nutrients again.

You have to maintain a strict gluten-free diet for life, to avoid hurting your small intestine again.

Other additional treatments to hasten the damage may include:

  • Nutritional supplements to replace any serious deficiencies.
  • Specific medications to treat dermatitis herpetiformis, such as dapsone.
  • Corticosteroids for severe inflammation that’s not responding fast enough to the diet.
  • Continuous follow-up care, including regular testing to make sure the disease is controlled.

Safety Precautions

There are safety precautions you can follow to avoid celiac disease, such as abstaining from all food and products containing gluten. Because such products have been shown to trigger the disease.

Gluten is found naturally in certain grains and products made from grains, such as:

  • Wheat (including semolina, durum, emmer, bulgur, spelled, farina, Kamut or Khorasan wheat, and couscous).
  • Barley (and malt made from barley).
  • Rye.

These grains are used to make:

  • Bread and baked goods.
  • Hot and cold cereals.
  • Noodles and pasta.
  • Beer, lager, and ale.
  • Malted liquors.
  • Malt vinegar.

It’s also added to many processed food products, such as:

  • Soups and sauces.
  • Dressings and condiments.
  • Processed meats, such as hot dogs and deli meats.
  • Processed cheese, yogurt, and ice cream products.
  • Packaged dinners.
  • Sweets.

Make sure to check labels for hidden gluten before eating processed foods. (24)

Some gluten-free food includes:

  • Fruits and Vegetables
  • Healthy Fats
  • Lean protein
  • Raw organic dairy
  • Bone broth
  • Gluten-Free flour
  • Nuts and Seeds
  • Sprouted legumes
  • Gluten-Free wine
  • Gluten-Free spices and herbs
  • Gluten-Free condiments. (25)

Some gluten Free Supplement include:

  • Gluten-Free multivitamins
  • Probiotics
  • Digestive Enzymes (look for one that contains DPPVI)
  • Vitamin D3 (dosage ranges from 2000 to 5000 IU daily depending on age)
  • L-glutamine (taking 500 milligrams daily can improve the digestive system and help reverse the gut(small intestine) permanently. (26)

Gluten-Free Recipe Ideas

A few gluten-free recipes that adhere to a celiac disease diet you can try at home include:

  • Gluten-Free Waffles
  • Gluten-Free Dinner Rolls
  • Gluten-Free Coconut Bread


Frequently Asked Questions

How does the celiac disease affect my body?

Celiac disease affects your small intestine. This is where most of the nutrients from your food are absorbed, including proteins like gluten.

 But when you have celiac disease, gluten in your small intestine triggers an immune response.

Your immune system sends inflammatory cells and antibodies to destroy the gluten molecules. These cells damage the mucous membrane (villi) lining your small intestine. (1)

How does a person get celiac disease?

Gluten is the main environmental trigger of the disease. In addition, infant feeding and weaning practices as well as the timing of gluten introduction in the diet have been suggested to contribute to celiac disease risk. (11)

When does the celiac disease develop?

Celiac disease can appear at any age after you or your child has begun eating gluten.

Healthcare providers most commonly see it appear during two distinct age windows: early childhood, between 8 and 12 months old, and between the ages of 40 and 60.

The window in early childhood is typically when children begin eating solid foods that may include biscuits or cereals with gluten in them.

How do you know if you have celiac disease?

You might suspect you have celiac disease if you have gastrointestinal symptoms after eating gluten.

Many people appear to have a sensitivity to gluten or wheat products in their diet. (27)

 Food intolerances can cause uncomfortable symptoms after eating, but they won’t damage your intestines the way celiac disease does.

How long does the treatment take to work?

Most people find their symptoms begin to improve almost immediately after starting a gluten-free diet.

 It may take several weeks to replace your nutritional deficiencies and several months for your gut to fully heal.

 It can take longer in some cases, depending on the extent of the damage and how long it’s been going on.

You can also prevent your body from healing if you aren’t strict with your diet.

What is the outlook for people with celiac disease?

Most people who’ve been diagnosed and have stopped eating gluten have an excellent prognosis. Most of the damage done by celiac disease can be undone.

If you continue to have symptoms, it may be that you’re consuming small amounts of gluten without realizing it, or you may have a secondary condition.

Only 5% of people have truly refractory celiac disease that doesn’t respond to diet.

What happens if you don’t avoid gluten?

If you go many years before being diagnosed or you don’t succeed in avoiding gluten afterward, the effects of celiac disease can be more severe and long-lasting.

 Malnutrition can affect your nervous system and skeletal system and some of these effects are hard to reverse, especially when they occur during childhood development.

Chronic inflammation can also lead to other problems in your intestine.

People with untreated celiac disease frequently develop lactose intolerance as well, and other common intolerances can follow. As your mucosa diminishes, so does the variety of foods you can eat.


Celiac disease is a type of serious food allergy and autoimmune condition that’s caused by consuming a type of protein called gluten, which is found in wheat, rye, barley, and many processed products that contain gluten as an additive.

Scientific research showed that celiac disease as an autoimmune reaction is partly a genetic disorder meaning is inherited.

Symptoms to look out for include; Diarrhea, Fatigue, Weight loss, Bloating and gas, Abdominal pain, Nausea and vomiting, Constipation, Swollen belly, Pale, foul-smelling stools

You’re more likely to have celiac disease if you: Are white, have a relative who has it, have a chromosomal disorder such as Turner syndrome, Williams’s syndrome, or Down syndrome, have another autoimmune disease, such as Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, microscopic colitis or Addison’s disease, microscopic colitis (lymphocytic or collagenous colitis).

Untreated, celiac disease can cause: Malnutrition, Bone weakening, Infertility and miscarriage, Lactose intolerance, Cancer, Nervous system problems

Celiac disease can be diagnosed through two different methods; Blood testing, and Biopsy.

The most important step to take if you want to cure celiac disease is to stop eating food containing gluten.

The safety precautions you can follow to avoid celiac disease is to abstain from all food and products containing gluten because such products have been shown to trigger the disease.

Instead of viewing celiac disease as a limiting medical problem that makes eating healthy harder, see it as an opportunity to explore new foods and recipes.

However, cooking more at home is the best way to control your exposure to gluten. Keep in mind that when cooking or prepping ingredients, it’s important to avoid cross-contact with foods that have gluten.

Contamination can happen through shared utensils or a shared cooking/storage environment, so always be cautious.

I hope you get the value worth your time. I appreciate the time you spend with me. Leave a comment if you like this post.

 Do you have any other questions regarding celiac disease I didn’t answer here? Have you ever experienced any of the symptoms I mentioned here after eating wheat or other gluten-containing food or products? Feel free to share your story with me in the comment below.


The content provided in living Good Blog is for informational and educational purposes only. It’s not intended to provide medical advice or take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal doctor. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Living Good Blog takes no responsibility for possible health consequences of any person(s) reading or following the information in this educational content. Viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medication, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program

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