Even if you don’t have celiac disease, chances are you’ve read or heard about this autoimmune disease from friends, on the internet or television, or in a periodical. While awareness of celiac has increased in recent years, so, too, have many myths and misconceptions.
Triple board-certified gastroenterologist John M. Rivas, MD, and the team at Rivas Digestive Center in Hollywood, Florida, want to help set the record straight. Dr. Rivas specializes in diagnosing and supporting celiac disease.
There’s no cure for celiac disease, and avoiding gluten completely is the only way to maintain the health of your intestines. By learning the facts, you can make the right choices for managing this disease.
MYTH: Celiac disease is a type of food allergy.
FACT: Celiac disease is NOT an allergy—it’s an autoimmune disease.
When you have celiac disease, your body makes antibodies that attack and destroy the cells lining your small intestines, called epithelium. Celiac disease affects everyone differently and may occur in your digestive system or other parts of your body.
A wheat allergy, on the other hand, causes allergic reactions such as hives, swelling, or anaphylactic shock after you consume products with wheat.
MYTH: If your blood test is negative, you definitely don’t have celiac disease.
FACT: Blood tests aren’t always accurate—especially if you’ve been following a gluten-free diet.
The best way to accurately diagnose celiac disease is through an upper endoscopy. During this minimally invasive procedure, Dr. Rivas uses a special instrument to look at your small intestine, take tissue samples, and evaluate any abnormalities, like inflammation.
MYTH: A negative blood test or endoscopy means you’ll never get celiac disease.
FACT: If you have the gene for celiac disease, you can develop the disorder at any time—even if you tested negative for it before.
Celiac disease develops as a result of three factors:
- Carrying one of the genes linked to celiac disease (HLA-DQ2 or HLA DQ8)
- Eating foods that contain gluten, the protein found in wheat, rye, barley, spelt, and sometimes oats
- A change in your gut flora, usually related to diet, environment, trauma/illness, or intestinal permeability (leaky gut)
This means that if you carry one of the celiac genes, you can develop the autoimmune disease at any time if the other factors occur. In fact, the average age of diagnosis of celiac disease is around 50 years.
MYTH: A little bit of gluten isn’t a big deal.
FACT: Even small amounts of gluten cause intestinal damage in people with celiac disease.
Having as little as 50 mg of gluten is enough to trigger intestinal damage if you have celiac disease. This means it’s important to play it safe and avoid eating foods that contain even trace amounts of gluten or may have been “contaminated” with the protein. And if you touch foods with gluten, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly to avoid accidentally ingesting it.
MYTH: The only symptom celiac causes is inflammation in your intestines.
FACT: Celiac disease can cause a range of problems, including digestive and non-digestive symptoms.
While the main signs of celiac disease relate to your digestive system, many people with the disease also deal with non-intestinal symptoms. Here’s a look at some of the most common symptoms, both digestive and non-digestive:
- Stomach pain
- Loss of appetite
- Bloating and gas
- Weight loss
- Joint or bone pain
- Headache and other nervous system symptoms
- Depression and mood troubles (e.g., irritability)
- Skin rash
- Canker sores, dry mouth, tongue symptoms
Keep in mind that children with celiac disease may have other symptoms, including slowed growth because their bodies don’t absorb the nutrients they need.
To learn more facts about celiac disease or for an evaluation for this autoimmune disorder, schedule an appointment online or over the phone at the Rivas Digestive Center in Hollywood, Florida.