Celiac Disease (Celiac Sprue) Facts
- Celiac sprue, also known as celiac disease, gluten-sensitive enteropathy, and gluten-induced enteropathy, is a chronic disease of the digestive tract that interferes with the digestion and absorption of nutrients from food.
- People with celiac disease cannot tolerate gluten, a protein commonly found in wheat, rye, barley, and to some degree, oats. When affected individuals ingest foods containing gluten, the lining (mucosa) of the intestine becomes damaged due to the body's immune reaction.
- Because the lining of the intestine contains essential enzymes for digestion and absorption, its destruction leads to malabsorption, a difficulty in absorption of food and essential nutrients. As result, celiac disease is often considered a malabsorption disorder.
- Persons with celiac disease experience improvement in the condition when on a strict, gluten-free diet and relapse when dietary gluten is reintroduced. With treatment, celiac disease is rarely fatal. However, untreated and unrecognized celiac disease may slightly increase the risk of developing intestinal lymphoma, a form of cancer.
- Celiac disease is a genetic disease; the genes for this condition may be transmitted to some family members and not to others. Sometimes the disease is triggered, or becomes apparent for the first time, after surgery, pregnancy, childbirth, viral infection, or severe emotional stress.
- Celiac disease is rare in persons with an African American, Caribbean, or Asian background. Females are slightly more affected than males. Although celiac disease can manifest at any age, the detection of this disease usually peaks at 8-12 months and in the third to fourth decade of life.
- The true prevalence of celiac disease is not known. The increased awareness and the availability of better diagnostic tests have led to the realization that the disease is relatively common. The highest prevalence is in Western Europe and in places where Europeans emigrated, notably North America and Australia.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/26/2016
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