Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that’s triggered when you eat gluten. It’s also known as celiac sprue, non-tropical sprue, or gluten-sensitive enteropathy.
Gluten is a protein found in foods made with wheat, barley, rye, and triticale. It is also found in oats that have been made in processing plants that handle other grains. Gluten can even be found in some medicines, vitamins, and lipsticks. Gluten intolerance, also known as gluten sensitivity, is characterized by the body’s inability to digest or break down gluten. Some people with gluten intolerance have a mild sensitivity to gluten, while others have celiac disease which is an autoimmune disorder.
In celiac disease, the immune response to gluten creates toxins that destroy the villi. Villi are tiny finger-like protrusions inside the small intestines. When the villi become damaged, the body is unable to absorb nutrients from food. This can lead to malnutrition and other serious health complications, including permanent intestinal damage.
People with celiac disease may develop nutrient deficiencies as damage to the gut gradually limits the absorption of nutrients such as vitamins B12, D, and K. For the same reason, a person may also develop iron deficiency anemia.
Beyond malnutrition, celiac disease can also cause damage to the large intestine and more subtle damage to other organs.
Celiac disease cannot be prevented. However, early detection and management of celiac disease may prevent severe complications. Therefore, it is very important to check for celiac disease in persons at higher risk for having the condition, such as first-degree family members of patients with celiac disease.