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Health Tip: Conquering Celiac Disease

A gluten-free diet is a lifelong commitment

(HealthDay News) -- Celiac disease is a digestive illness that damages the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food.

People who have celiac disease cannot tolerate a protein called gluten, which is found in wheat, rye and barley. When people with celiac disease eat foods containing gluten, their immune system responds by damaging the small intestine.

Symptoms of celiac disease may include one or more of the following: recurring abdominal bloating and pain; chronic diarrhea; weight loss; pale, foul-smelling stool; unexplained anemia (low count of red blood cells); gas; bone or joint pain; behavior changes; muscle cramps; fatigue; delayed growth; failure to thrive in infants; seizures; tingling numbness in the legs (from nerve damage); pale sores inside the mouth; painful skin rash; tooth discoloration or loss of enamel; and missed menstrual periods (often because of excessive weight loss).

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the only treatment for celiac disease is to follow a gluten-free diet, which means avoiding all foods that contain gluten. For most people, following this diet will stop symptoms, heal existing intestinal damage, and prevent further damage.

A small percentage of people with celiac disease don't improve on the gluten-free diet. These people often have severely damaged intestines that can't heal even after they eliminate gluten from their diet.

Because their intestines are not absorbing enough nutrients, they may need to receive intravenous nutrition supplements. Drug treatments are being evaluated for unresponsive celiac disease. These patients may need to be evaluated for complications of the disease.

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