Celiac disease is a digestive disorder in which gluten – a protein found in wheat – damages the lining of the small intestine, which is the same part of the gut that absorbs nutrients from food. According to the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation, it is believed that 333,000 Canadians (approximately 1% of the population) are affected by celiac disease, but only about 110,000 have actually been diagnosed.
Iron Deficiency & Celiac Disease
Iron deficiency and anemia are common in those with celiac disease. The reason for this is the damage done to the small intestine that can interfere with the absorption of iron. Unfortunately, eating improperly for the condition is also often to blame.
Symptoms of celiac disease vary from person to person. Where some people may experience fluctuations in symptoms, others may experience very mild symptoms… however, damage to the small intestine is still occurring. Due to the general nature of symptoms related to celiac disease, it can often be confused for other conditions, which likely lends itself to the low rate of diagnosis (1 in 3) and high rate of initial misdiagnosis (30% in children).
The onset of symptoms in children may begin shortly after the dietary introduction of cereal (generally after 6 months of age). Children will typically experience growth problems (failure to gain weight as expected or unexpected weight loss), chronic diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain/bloating, and fatigue. Although symptoms can occur at any age, adults typically experience symptoms between the 2nd – 4th decades of their lives. While adults do not typically experience gastrointestinal symptoms related to celiac disease, they commonly experience iron deficiency, mouth sores, fatigue, and bone or joint pain.
As with many other conditions, the longer a person with celiac disease goes untreated, the greater the chance of developing other complications (nutritional deficiencies, tumors, liver disease, osteoporosis, etc.).
What Can Be Done
Since there is no cure for celiac disease, the best known treatment is a gluten-free diet. This includes avoiding all foods that contain wheat, rye, barley or triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye). While it will take about 6 months for the intestinal lining to return to normal, symptoms should completely subside within 3 months. Sadly, the higher cost of gluten-free foods (a whopping 2.5 times higher than regular foods on average) can prevent people from eating properly for their condition.
For more severe cases where a gluten-free diet does not resolve symptoms, steroid medications may be prescribed by your doctor to enhance the intestine’s ability to absorb nutrients and minerals.
In some cases, working with a dietician (who has experience with celiac disease and gluten-free diets) and/or seeking counselling from a psychologist or psychiatrist to help manage the disease may be beneficial.
Don’t Hesitate, Get Tested
It is important to recognize the symptoms of celiac disease early, get tested, and begin a gluten-free diet to help prevent further complications. Celiac disease in children has been shown to slow growth and weaken bones and, if left untreated, a child can become very ill.
Testing for celiac disease may include a physical exam, blood tests, an endoscopy (and biopsy), bone density test, and a complete blood count to check for iron deficiency/anemia.
- Iron Deficiency or Iron Deficiency Anemia
- Increased risk of lymphoma
If you are found to have low iron levels, your doctor may also recommend taking an oral iron supplement and eating more iron-rich (and gluten-free) foods to help prevent or treat the iron deficiency, along with adding more vitamin C to your diet to maximize iron absorption.
Content and advice provided on The Iron Maiden is for information purposes only and should not serve as a substitute for a licensed health care provider, who is knowledgeable about an individual’s unique health care needs