Patient & Visitor InformationContact Us
  • Pediatric Gastroenterology, Nutrition, and Liver Diseases

  • Questions and Answers

  • What is Celiac Disease?

    GlutenCeliac disease is an inherited autoimmune disorder that results in damage to the small intestine. The small intestine is normally lined with finger-like projections known as villi that play an important role in the digestion and absorption of food.

    An autoimmune disorder occurs when the immune system, which normally fights infections, instead turns against one of the organs of the body. In the case of celiac disease, exposure to wheat and certain other grains containing gluten leads to immune system activation and damage to the small intestinal lining. As a result, the small intestinal villi become "flattened" and cannot properly digest and absorb food.

    Celiac disease was once thought to be rare in the United States. Research now indicates that more than one out of every 133 people in the general population has celiac disease.

    Why do people develop celiac disease?

    People with celiac disease have a genetic predisposition for developing celiac disease. In other words, they inherit a gene or genes from their parents that make them susceptible to celiac disease. In order to actually develop celiac disease, they must have gluten in their diet and may also need some other event, such as a viral infection, to trigger the disease.

    What are symptoms of celiac disease?

    The most recognized symptoms of celiac disease are diarrhea, abdominal pain, and weight loss. In childhood, celiac disease classically presents with diarrhea, abdominal bloating, poor appetite, failure to gain weight and irritability between 9 and 18 months of age. However, the symptoms of celiac disease may begin at any age. Recently, it has been recognized that celiac disease may cause a variety of atypical symptoms, such as:

    • Diarrhea
    • Abdominal pain
    • Weight loss (or failure to gain weight appropriately in childhood)
    • Delayed puberty
    • Short stature
    • Chronic fatigue
    • Dermatitis herpetiformis
    • A skin rash
    • Behavioral and emotional problems
    • Enamel defects of teeth
    • Recurrent canker sores