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What Causes Celiac Disease, and Can It Be Prevented?

What Causes Celiac Disease, and Can It Be Prevented?

Celiac disease cannot necessarily be prevented, but it can be successfully managed and improved with the right diet and behaviors.

Celiac disease is common in the United States, affecting an estimated one in 133 Americans, reports Beyond Celiac. This disease can cause various unpleasant symptoms, including nausea, diarrhea, and constipation.

The exact cause of celiac disease isn't known. This often makes it difficult for doctors to determine whether or not it can be prevented in some people. However, scientific evidence suggests it can be successfully managed with early diagnosis and treatment.

Here's more about what causes celiac disease and how to contact Lompoc Valley Medical Center when you're ready to discuss your treatment and prevention options.

What Is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder triggered when a person eats gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye.

People with celiac disease will experience an immune response in their small intestine when eating gluten. This immune response can eventually damage the small intestine lining and prevent it from absorbing essential nutrients. Over time, the immune response triggered by gluten can lead to complications, including malnutrition, weight loss, and anemia.

People with celiac disease cannot eat products containing gluten unless labeled "gluten-free.” Foods containing gluten include bread, pasta, cereals, crackers, and cakes.

What Is the Cause Of Celiac Disease?

Researchers aren't entirely sure what causes celiac disease. It may be caused by genetics or a combination of genetics and a diet with lots of gluten. In a 2021 study published in Frontiers in Immunology, researchers found that an extra slice of bread per day could increase a person's risk of developing celiac disease by 20% to 50%.

Celiac disease may also be caused by gut bacteria or infections of the gastrointestinal system. Some researchers say celiac disease may be triggered by childbirth, pregnancy, surgery, or stress. Regardless of what may genuinely cause celiac disease, it helps to know its risk factors so you can take steps to possibly avoid it.

What Are Risk Factors Of Celiac Disease?

Anyone can get celiac disease. However, this disease is more common in people with a family history of it. It is also common in people with a medical condition that makes them more likely to get the disease.

Risk factors for celiac disease include:

  1. Having a relative with celiac disease. This autoimmune condition occurs in 5% to 10% of people with relatives diagnosed with celiac disease.
  2. Having the HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8 genes. An estimated 95% of people with celiac disease have the HLA-DQ2 gene. An estimated 5% have the HLA-DQ8 gene.
  3. Having a relative with dermatitis herpetiformis. This is a chronic, itchy skin condition characterized by bumps, blisters, and a rash.
  4. Type 1 diabetes.
  5. Autoimmune thyroid disease.
  6. Rheumatoid arthritis.
  7. Down-syndrome.
  8. Turner syndrome.
  9. Microscopic colitis. This is inflammation of the large intestine and causes persistent watery diarrhea.
  10. Addison's disease.

Genetic testing can often determine whether you have the HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8 genes at risk for celiac disease. Your doctor can also work with you to diagnose other conditions that may increase your risk for celiac disease.

Are There Ways To Prevent Celiac Disease?

There are currently no proven ways to prevent celiac disease. According to a 2018 study published in Frontiers in Pediatrics, only a small percentage of people at genetic risk end up getting this disease. The study also mentions that at one point, it was thought that introducing foods with gluten early on in a child's life could prevent celiac disease. However, several studies show no link between early gluten exposure and celiac disease.

If you are diagnosed with celiac disease, you may be able to prevent it from causing further damage to your small intestine. This can be achieved by eating a healthy and strict gluten-free diet. Researchers say a gluten-free diet may even reverse damage to the small intestine caused by celiac disease.

Here are steps you can take to repair your small intestine or to stop the celiac disease from causing further damage to it:

  1. Avoid all foods that contain wheat, barley, or rye.
  2. Avoid foods manufactured or processed in the same facility as wheat, barley, or rye. These foods may have come into contact with gluten or contain small amounts.
  3. Stick to eating gluten-free oats. Many oats are processed in the same facilities as wheat, barley, and rye.
  4. Avoid consuming milk and milk products for some time after your celiac diagnosis. Taking a break from milk will give your intestine time to heal.
  5. Read all food labels and ingredients carefully to spot gluten. Gluten is sometimes hidden in medicines and food additives and has a different name, such as "modified food starch." Your doctor, nutritionist, or dietitian may be able to give you additional tips on how to spot the hidden gluten in food and medicine products.
  6. Steer clear of other household products that contain gluten. Always read the labels on products carefully before putting them in your mouth. Lipstick, envelopes, toothpaste, and mouthwash are other products known to contain gluten.
  7. Consider sticking to a clean diet to ensure you avoid foods that contain wheat, rye, and barley. Fruits, vegetables, eggs, dry beans, fish, poultry, nuts, and seeds are some of many "clean" whole foods that are healthy and do not contain gluten.
  8. Know about grains and starches you can include in a gluten-free diet. You can eat corn, quinoa, rice, buckwheat, and amaranth with celiac disease.

Diagnosing celiac disease often requires changing your diet and lifestyle to avoid gluten. If you need help adjusting to life with celiac disease, ask your doctor about support groups in your area for people with this condition. Support groups can connect you with people who can teach you how to cope with celiac disease. You may even learn about new recipes and ideas surrounding gluten-free foods.

Is It Possible To Prevent Symptoms If I Have Celiac Disease?

The best way to avoid symptoms of celiac disease is to eat a gluten-free diet. Symptoms of celiac disease differ from one person to the next. Sometimes, symptoms of celiac disease are entirely unrelated to the digestive system. Children tend to be more affected by symptoms of celiac disease than adults.

Common symptoms of celiac disease include:

  1. Diarrhea
  2. Constipation
  3. Nausea and vomiting
  4. Fatigue
  5. Weight loss
  6. Abdominal pain
  7. Bloating
  8. Flatulence
  9. Headaches
  10. Anemia, due to iron deficiency
  11. Loss of bone mass and density, known as osteoporosis
  12. Softening of bones, known as osteomalacia
  13. Ulcers inside the mouth
  14. Joint pain
  15. Dermatitis herpetiformis
  16. Damage to the nervous system, including numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
  17. Problems with balance and coordination
  18. Cognitive impairment
  19. Reduced functioning of the spleen, known as hyposplenism

If you are diagnosed with celiac disease, your doctor may refer you to a nutritionist or dietitian. These specialists can help you develop a safe, healthy diet free of gluten.

A nutritionist or dietitian can ensure your diet includes all the vitamins and nutrients you need to stay healthy, boost your immune system, and reduce your risk for illness, including celiac disease. They can also spend more time educating you about ingredients to avoid and foods that contain hidden sources of gluten.

How Can I Reduce My Risk For Celiac Disease?

It's not always possible to reduce your risk for celiac disease, especially since it is thought to be caused mainly by genetics. For instance, you are at high risk of getting celiac disease if it runs in your family or you have the HLA-DQ2 or HLA-DQ8 genes.

If the celiac disease does not run in your family and you are not genetically disposed to it, you can reduce your risk of avoiding medical conditions related to celiac disease. Here are ways you may be able to reduce your risk:

  1. Avoid consuming high amounts of iodine through foods or supplements. A high amount of iodine may trigger an autoimmune thyroid disease, which can eventually lead to celiac disease.
  2. Avoid radiation exposure. Radiation exposure is linked to autoimmune conditions that affect the thyroid and can trigger celiac disease.
  3. Quit smoking, or do not start smoking. Smoking is linked to rheumatoid arthritis and microscopic colitis—other conditions linked to celiac disease.
  4. Maintain a healthy weight, or lose excess weight. Excess weight can increase your risk for rheumatoid arthritis.
  5. Work with your doctor to manage and control your autoimmune disorder if you have one. For example, take your medications as directed and control your blood sugar if you have type 1 diabetes.

Treating Celiac Disease At Lompoc Valley Medical Center

At Lompoc Valley Medical Center, we understand how challenging it can be to live with celiac disease and carefully manage a gluten-free diet. We can work with you to manage your condition and perform the necessary testing and exams if you think you are at risk for celiac disease or if it runs in your family. Contact us today at (805) 737-3382 to request an appointment and learn more about our many healthcare services.