May is officially Celiac disease awareness month. Sharing knowledge about this relatively common autoimmune disease is essential for two main reasons. First, increasing Celiac disease awareness will help facilitate quicker diagnosis for those affected – a potentially life-saving realization. Second, increasing awareness will help people who are not affected understand the necessity of a stringent gluten-free diet for anyone with Celiac.
Fifteen facts about Celiac disease are described below in an effort to educate the public about the plight, impact, severity, implications and requirements for surviving this challenging autoimmune illness.
15 Facts About Celiac Disease
- Nearly three million Americans suffer from Celiac disease – an autoimmune, genetic digestive disorder that damages the small intestine and interferes with the absorption of nutrients in food.
- People who have Celiac disease cannot tolerate gluten – a protein in wheat, rye and barley.
- Gluten is found mainly in foods but may also be found in everyday products such as medicines, vitamins, skin care products and lip balms.
- When consuming or using a product with gluten, the immune system of someone with Celiac disease damages and destroys the intestines’ villi – tiny, fingerlike protrusions lining the small intestine.
- Damaged villus leads to malnourishment and may leak the intestines’ contents into the bloodstream.
- A person with Celiac waits an average of 6 to 11 years before being correctly diagnosed.
- Celiac disease can lead to a number of other disorders, including infertility and some cancers.
- Some of the more common Celiac symptoms may include abdominal bloating, abdominal pain, chronic diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, weight loss, skin rashes, fatigue, depression, headaches, joint pain, irritability, infertility, arthritis, menstrual irregularity and tingling or numbness in the extremities.
- There are more than 300 symptoms of Celiac disease, and some people may not have any symptoms.
- Celiac disease was first discovered in the first century A.D.
- Twenty percent of people with Celiac have an immediate family member who also has Celiac.
- $9,000 is the average cost of misdiagnosis per Celiac patient per year.
- Celiac disease can be life-threatening if left untreated. According to Mayo Clinic studies, undiagnosed Celiac disease can quadruple the risk of death.
- A 100 percent gluten-free diet is the only existing treatment for Celiac disease today.
- Food is not gluten-free if it has come in contact with a surface, utensil or other ingredient that contains gluten. This contact is called cross-contamination and can make a person with Celiac disease sick.
Previous estimates described 1 in 133 people as having Celiac disease; however, newer approximations are placing that number closer to one in every 100 people. With such a significant prevalence and urgency for early diagnosis, more Celiac screenings should be conducted in those with unexplained digestive or immune symptoms. In addition, these numbers illustrate the need for greater education and tolerance for gluten-free eating and food preparation.
Although gluten-free food has taken off in popularity in the last few years, many restaurants are not prepared to offer someone with Celiac a safe dining experience. As the only existing treatment for Celiac disease, gluten-free cross-contamination prevention should be part of every dining establishment today.