Celiac Disease: An Autoimmune Disease

What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is a severe, genetic autoimmune disease where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the villi of the small intestine.  When a person with celiac disease eats gluten, it interferes with the absorption of nutrients from food. A damaged villi makes it extremely difficult for the body to absorb nutrients into the bloodstream, leading to malnourishment and an array of other problems. 

Celiac Disease Facts

  • An estimated 1 in 133 (or 1%) of the U.S. population has celiac disease
  • 83% of Americans who have celiac disease are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with other conditions.
  • The average time a person waits to be correctly diagnosed is 6-10 years
  • Celiac disease risk is increased 10-15% for individuals with a first-degree celiac relative
  • Diagnostic delays lead to increase complications such as anemia, infertility, other autoimmune diseases, vitamin deficiencies and more
  • An estimated 30% of people carry the celiac risk genes
  • The only existing treatment is a 100% gluten-free diet


Age of diagnosis

Chance of developing another autoimmune condition
2-4 years 10.5%
4-12 years 16.7%
12-20 years 27%
Over 20 years  34%


Common Symptoms of Celiac Disease

  • Bloating, gas, and/or abdominal pain
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Discolored teeth
  • Malabsorption
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Fatigue, depression
  • Early onset or unusually severe osteoporosis
  • Autoimmune thyroid disease
  • Itchy skin rash, hair loss, dermatitis herpetiformis
  • Short stature
  • Unexplained fertility issues
  • Unexplained liver test abnormalities


Celiac Disease Diagnosis

A simple genetic test can determine if further screening is needed such as a tissue transglutaminase test (tTG) or antiendomysial (EMA) antibody test; or the genetic test can rule out the need for further antibody testing. 

It is recommended that a genetic test like our GlutenID® test,  is done before further antibody testing to see if the genetic test shows positive for celiac disease. In the case that the genetic test results are positive, then the individual should have antibody screening to help determine if the disease is active. 


Why get a genetic test before antibody testing for celiac disease? 

Antibody tests such as the tTG or the EMA tests measure the autoimmune response triggered by gluten that occurs at a point in time. These tests are invasive and gluten has to currently be attacking the body for results to be accurate. Genetic testing for celiac disease measures the presence or absence of genetically-programmed molecules that are found on the surface of some cells. Gene testing is simple, and can be done with a cheek swab. These tests can even be performed after birth! An individual is either born with or without these factors. Why go through an invasive blood test and spend 100s of dollars when an individual can come back negative for celiac disease? Since genetic tests are non-invasive, an individual should take this test first to rule-out celiac disease. If a person is negative, they will never develop celiac disease and no further testing is needed. Another reason why an individual would use a genetic test over an antibody test, is if they have already been on a strict, gluten-free diet. Gluten will not be attacking the body, therefore, the antibody test will not be able to diagnose properly. The individual would have to begin eating gluten for 6-8 weeks, and reverse their symptoms in order to take an antibody test. It is highly recommended that if an individual takes a genetic test and is positive for celiac disease, that they do not stop eating gluten until after they take the antibody test.

Treatment for Celiac Disease: A Gluten-Free Diet

The only current treatment for celiac disease is a 100% gluten-free diet. There are no medications or surgeries that can cure the disease. Adopting a strict gluten-free diet allows the small intestine to heal so it can absorb the nutrients properly and reduces the risk of associated problems with celiac disease.

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