Celiac Disease

What is celiac disease?

Celiac, or coeliac, disease is condition in which gluten causes inflammation of the lining of the small intestine. Gluten is a substance found in food made from wheat, rye, and barley. Typical symptoms are diarrhea, bloating, flatulence (passing wind), weight loss and abdominal pain. The symptoms usually start at an early age, often after a toddler begins to eat food with gluten, but the condition can come on later in life. Treatment is achieved by avoiding gluten containing foods.


Celiac disease is a condition in which the immune system mistakenly recognizes gluten as a threat. Gluten is a small protein found in wheat, barley and rye. When a person with celiac disease eats gluten, the immune system begins to work to 'fight' the gluten, causing swelling and redness of the bowel. This affects the ability of the bowel to absorb nutrients. Celiac disease usually runs in families and women are slightly more commonly affected than men. People with other immune disorders (such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune thyroid diseases, etc.) are more likely to develop celiac disease.


Typical symptoms are diarrhea, bloating, weight loss and abdominal (belly) pain. Other symptoms include weight loss, loss of appetite, foul smelling stool, tiredness, and a blistering rash on the buttocks. Children with celiac disease may grow more slowly than their peers.


The diagnosis is usually made by an experienced doctor or gastroenterologist based on the symptoms and physical examination, along with blood tests which may show the presence of antibodies (proteins that fight infections) against gluten. Endoscopy of the stomach and small intestine (a camera passed through the mouth) with a biopsy (a tissue sample from the body) is also needed to confirm the diagnosis.


A gluten-free diet is the main treatment. Symptoms will resolve if foods with gluten are avoided.


Avoiding gluten in the diet of infants younger than 6 months of age is currently recommended to help prevent developing celiac disease later in life. Breast feeding babies may help prevent some episodes of celiac disease.

Other names for celiac disease

  • Gluten intolerance
  • Coeliac disease
  • Celiac sprue
  • Gluten-sensitive enteropathy