Celiac disease: causes, symptoms, treatment, prognosis

In people with celiac disease, the wall of the small intestine is so damaged that food cannot be absorbed sufficiently. This is called malabsorption. Celiac disease usually occurs in the first year of life, but can develop at any age. The disease is more common in women. What are the causes and symptoms of celiac disease, how can the disease be treated and what is the prognosis? Celiac disease is also called gluten intolerance.

Article content

  • Small intestine
  • Celiac disease/gluten intolerance
  • Causes of celiac disease
  • Symptoms of celiac disease
  • Complications of celiac disease
  • Diagnosis of celiac disease
  • Celiac disease treatment
  • Celiac disease prognosis
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Dutch Celiac Association
  • The year of quinoa


Small intestine

The small intestine is the part of the intestine between the stomach and the large intestine. The small intestine consists of the duodenum, the jejunum and the ileum. The ileum opens into the large intestine (lower right side of the abdomen). Most of the digestion takes place in the small intestine, the digested food is absorbed through the intestinal wall into the blood vessels and lymphatic vessels.

Celiac disease/gluten intolerance

Celiac disease involves poor absorption of nutrients because the intestine is damaged by a reaction to gluten. Gluten is a protein found in many food products. The disease occurs in countries where wheat is an important food item. The disease usually occurs in the first year of life, but it can develop at any age. Celiac disease is more common in women and sometimes runs in certain families. Lifestyle is not a significant factor.

Causes of celiac disease

The wall of the small intestine is so damaged that nutrition cannot be absorbed sufficiently. It is not entirely clear how this damage occurs, but the cause appears to be an immune reaction. Antibodies against gluten are formed. The result is that food cannot be absorbed sufficiently, this is also called malabsorption. It can lead to a lack of nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. These nutrients are very important for good health. It appears that there is a hereditary factor, celiac disease is sometimes more common in certain families.

Symptoms of celiac disease

You usually see the symptoms in a baby quite quickly, namely when the first grains are added to the food. This usually happens when a child is three to four months old. In adults, it may take some time before symptoms that may indicate celiac disease appear. People have often suffered from vague complaints for years.


  • The stool is frequent, loose and smells strongly;
  • The stool looks greasy;
  • The abdomen is distended;
  • Sometimes the person suffers from drumstick fingers;
  • Suffering from flatulence;
  • Loss of weight;
  • Muscle cramps (in adults);
  • Feeling of fatigue and weakness;
  • Sometimes a rash on buttocks, knees, elbows, shoulders, the rash may be accompanied by itching;
  • Babies and young children may also experience: very loose stools, the child is not growing enough and there may be loss of muscle tissue (this is especially visible in the buttocks).


Complications of celiac disease

  • If a deficiency of vitamins and minerals occurs, this can lead to anemia (anemia due to a lack of iron) and osteomalacia (deficiency of vitamin D and calcium).
  • If celiac disease is not treated, the risk of cancer may increase, especially of the small intestine.


Diagnosis of celiac disease

Based on the complaints that someone has, the doctor may suspect that it is celiac disease. Especially if there is a rash that itches. A blood test can confirm the diagnosis: it looks for antibodies. If a baby develops complaints shortly after starting solid food, celiac disease may be suspected. A sample of the tissue from the wall of the small intestine can provide certainty. For this examination, an endoscope is inserted through the mouth. An affected intestine will show a smooth surface. Blood can also be taken for testing to see if there is anemia.

Celiac disease treatment

Treatment consists of not consuming foods containing gluten. It is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, spelt, kamut and to a lesser extent oats. It is not a simple diet, you will need help from a dietitian. You may need vitamin and mineral supplements after the diagnosis. If gluten no longer enters the body, this will usually lead to a large and rapid improvement. The symptoms will eventually disappear completely.

Celiac disease prognosis

Celiac disease is a chronic condition and can return if someone starts using gluten again. If the disease runs in families, relatives of someone with celiac disease can be examined to see if they also have it.

Autoimmune disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease. The body makes antibodies against its own tissues. Celiac disease occurs in relation to type 1 diabetes, thyroid abnormalities, which are also autoimmune diseases. People with celiac disease also often suffer from lactose intolerance and osteoporosis. Celiac disease is also regularly seen in people with Williams syndrome, Down syndrome and Turner syndrome.

Dutch Celiac Association

The association has been committed to helping people with celiac disease and dermatitis herpetiformis for almost forty years. The number of members grows every year, more than fourteen thousand adults and children are already affiliated with the Dutch Celiac Association. The association helps people through information, contact with fellow sufferers, advocacy and stimulating scientific research.

The year of quinoa

2013 was declared the Year of Quinoa by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The nutritious granules are full of protein and other healthy substances and contain few calories. The fruits of the quinoa plant are actually seeds, but they look like grain. You can buy quinoa in different colors, in the supermarket you will probably only find white, but in health food stores you can also buy red and black quinoa. If you are allergic to gluten (celiac disease), you should not eat grains such as wheat, spelt, barley, oats and rye. Quinoa is suitable because the seeds do not contain gluten, they are not real grains, they just look like them. The quinoa flour can be used to make pasta, bread and breakfast cereals. If you use the granules, it is best to rinse them first. They are covered with saponin, which is a soap substance that naturally occurs on various plants. This gives a somewhat bitter taste. Place the quinona in a sieve and rinse it under the tap.

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