Celiac disease or celiac disease is a chronic disease of the digestive system. It is caused by an intolerance to gluten , a protein present in some cereals such as wheat, barley or rye and responsible for the elasticity of flour and for making baked bread fluffy.
Children with celiac disease react to this protein and produce an inflammation of the intestine, which leads to atrophy of the villi and this means that nutrients are not absorbed properly. In addition, other organs may be affected later.
Celiac disease is a very common disease. It is estimated that 1% of the population in Spain suffers from it, although these figures are probably higher as there are many cases that go undiagnosed.
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What are the symptoms of celiac disease?
The symptoms of celiac disease are varied and quite nonspecific (they appear in many other diseases), which can sometimes delay diagnosis.
Celiac children may have symptoms of the digestive system such as:
- repeated vomiting
- Chronic abdominal pain or bloating (they are “pot-bellied” children).
In addition, they may have other effects such as: weight stagnation or lack of growth, anemia due to lack of iron, tiredness, delayed puberty, recurrent canker sores in the mouth, irritability, tooth enamel defects and/or liver involvement.
Are there children more likely to suffer from it?
Celiac disease is not hereditary but there is a genetic predisposition ; therefore, children who have a celiac first-degree relative are at greater risk of suffering from it.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease (the body “attacks itself”); thus, you are more likely to get it if you have another autoimmune disease , such as type 1 diabetes, autoimmune liver disease, or autoimmune thyroid disease.
Children with Down syndrome, Turner syndrome or IgA deficiency are also considered a risk group.
How is it diagnosed?
If you suspect that your son or daughter may have celiac disease, they should continue to eat a normal diet and consult your pediatrician. Given the suspicion of celiac disease, an analysis will be carried out to determine the value of the celiac disease antibodies .
In some cases, this will be enough to establish the diagnosis. In others, we will also need to analyze an intestinal biopsy ; To do this, a small sample of intestine will be taken and analyzed under a microscope.
Which is the treatment?
The only treatment is to go on a gluten-free diet for life . Cereals that contain gluten are wheat, barley, rye, spelled and some varieties of oats (there are studies that affirm that pure oats are safe for most celiacs).
In processed foods, it is advisable to look at the labels and if they are marked as “gluten-free”. Celiacs can eat other cereals such as corn, rice, buckwheat, millet or quinoa.
The gluten-free diet makes the symptoms disappear, but the disease is not cured and can be reactivated with small amounts of gluten. That is why you have to be very careful; When cooking we must use separate containers and utensils for people with celiac disease, and we must be very careful if we eat outside the home.
On the website of the Federation of Celiac Associations of Spain we can find a lot of useful information.
If the father or mother is celiac, should they take any special precautions with their children?
As we have previously mentioned, having a first-degree relative with celiac disease is a risk factor. For this reason, when a person is diagnosed with celiac disease, first-degree relatives must be studied, even if they do not have any symptoms.
In the case of babies, the introduction of gluten will be carried out as in any other child. Between 12 and 18 months of life, an analytical study will be carried out to rule out celiac disease in the child.
If not, family members should continue to have regular check-ups (or at any time if symptoms appear).
Can celiac disease be prevented?
To date, there are no conclusive scientific studies that indicate how to prevent celiac disease. The influence of the age of introduction of gluten with complementary feeding has been widely analyzed. The current recommendation of the ESPGHAN (European Society of Gastroenterology and Nutrition) is to introduce gluten between 4 and 12 months of age , little by little, and not to give large amounts of gluten in childhood.