Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Diagnosing Celiac

How do you know if you have celiac disease? It is such an underdiagnosed disease in this country, you should educate yourself about it as your doctor may not be educated himself.

In Sparky's case, he has a variety of medical issues in addition to celiac disease. This could have made his diagnosis much more difficult but thankfully we had a good pediatric internist who suggested a blood test for celiac even though Sparky did not have all of the classic symptoms.

Celiac has several signs. In small children, failure to thrive is a biggie. Sparky wasn't even in the five percentile for height and weight. (Later Sparky was also diagnosed with growth hormone deficiency.)

Another symptom is chronic diarhea. This occurs in most celiacs. In our son's case, he was one of the small percentage who do not have this symptom as he also has a thyroid issue that causes the opposite problem.

Cramping and abdominal pain is something else to look out for. Sparky was terribly irritable and gassy as a baby. Unknowingly, I would give him Saltine crackers to relieve his stomach aches not knowing that the wheat in the crackers made the problem worse.

Oftentimes adults with celiac are misdiagnosed with irritable bowell syndrome (IBS) or even Crohn's disease. It wouldn't hurt to have a blood test to check for celiac disease if you have been diagnosed with IBS.

The blood test for celiac is very easy. The technician will look for antibodies that fight gluten. When I was tested for celiac my count was around 60. Sparky's count was around 600.

The important thing to remember if you are scheduled for a blood test is to load up on wheat products in the week or two leading up to the test. If you are avoiding gluten then you won't have the antibodies and your test could come back negative even if you do have the disease.

If your test does come back positive, the next step is a biopsy. The doctor will want to check the damage done to your small intestine.

Fortunately, for children recovery from intestinal damage comes very quickly. A strict gluten free diet will see results in just weeks. In Sparky's case, he began to put on weight and even a little height almost immediately. For adults, recovery can take much longer, up to one or two years. It will depend largely on how long the adult went undiagnosed.

Next, I'll write about living gluten-free.

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