Celiac disease (aka gluten intolerance) is a genetic disorder in which the lining of the small intestine is damaged, interfering with the absorption of essential nutrients from foods.

The lining of the small intestine is attacked by antibodies which slowly kill the finger like structures (villi) that are used for absorption of nutrients. The more those finger-like structures are damaged, the more your body will not be able to get essential nutrients and you will be malnourished over a period of time. Patients suffering from celiac disease have a very permeable intestinal wall which can allow passage of different nutrients and undigested gluten into the blood without undergoing proper digestion.

Celiac disease symptoms vary from patient to patient and are affected by three factors, the period of time one was breastfed, the amount of gluten containing foods consumed and lastly the age at which one started consuming gluten containing foods. Celiac disease symptoms are able to mimic symptoms of other diseases, like Crohn's disease, skin disorders, gastric ulcersparasitic infections, nervous conditions and irritable bowel syndrome.

Celiac disease symptoms include:

  • loss of weight
  • chronic diarrhea
  • constipation
  • muscle cramps
  • excessive gas
  • dental disorders
  • flatulence
  • abdominal bloating
  • abdominal pain
  • heartburn
  • reflux
  • vomiting
  • nausea
  • lactose intolerance
  • irritability in children
  • unexplained deficiency of iron
  • fatigue
  • pain on joint or bone
  • arthritis
  • osteoporosis or bone loss
  • anxiety or depression
  • tingling numbness in both feet and hands
  • seizures
  • missed menstrual periods
  • miscarriage or infertility
  • canker sores in the mouth
  • dermatitis herpetiformis

Diagnosis of celiac disease can be hard because its symptoms are the same as other different diseases. The first method of diagnosis is a blood test. Patients with celiac disease have higher levels of some autoantibodies (proteins reacting against the body's tissues or cells) in their blood. High levels of tTGA, anti-tissue transglutaminase antibodies, or EMA-anti endomysium antibodies are tested by doctors in order diagnose celiac disease. Foods containing gluten, for example pastas and breads, should be eaten for about 2 weeks before being tested. If these foods are not eaten, results for celiac disease may be negative although it is present.

Performing an intestinal biopsy is also another method to diagnose this disease. Tiny pieces of small intestine tissue are removed to look for damaged villi. An endoscope is eased through the patients' mouth into the small intestine. Samples are then taken by passing instruments through the endoscope. This method can also produce a negative result, even if the patient has celiac disease because the sample taken may be from an undamaged area of the small intestine.

Dermatitis herpetiformis is a blistering skin rash that is intensely itchy that affects 15-25 percent of celiac disease patients. It occurs on the knees, buttocks and elbows. Most people with dermatitis herpetiformis do not experience digestive symptoms of this disease. Dermatitis herpetiformis is diagnosed through a skin biopsy or blood test. Intestinal disease and skin disease respond to a diet free of gluten and recur when gluten is added again. A gluten-free diet should be maintained by people having dermatitis herpetiformis.

Alison writes about health issues and nursing at her blog, cnatraining101.com. For more information on how to become a nursing assistant please visit her blog.