An Overview of Celiac Disease

The earlier text-book description of CD was of a childhood diarrhoeal disease associated with malnutrition and growth failure. This is no longer the case. The new truth is that celiac patients can stay asymptomatic or silent for years and therefore, may be diagnosed as late as even 80-90 years of age.

This means that even if you have eaten gluten most of your life, you can still develop symptoms at any age. So much so that the average age of diagnosis of CD these days is 45-50 years.

There may be no marked digestive symptoms, no growth failure, no signs of malnutrition- on the contrary, there could be exceptionally tall or overweight celiac patients and many may even have good haemoglobin levels.

Typical symptoms of CD include diarrhoea, gastrointestinal disturbances like abdominal distension, cramps, flatulence, pain, constipation; nausea, vomiting, growth problems, stunting, anaemia – but not everyone presents these symptoms. Other symptoms include weight loss, lethargy, tiredness, bone problems like osteoporosis, skin problems, infertility, mouth ulcers, numbness and behavioural problems like depression, anxiety, and irritability.

An individual may have only one, most or none of the typical symptoms. Absences of typical symptoms make the diagnosis difficult and often lead to ill health, which can become life threatening. With so many wide variations in presentation, CD has been grouped differently.

It is estimated that for each symptomatic case there are approximately 6 silent or atypical ones and it is these that are the hardest to pick up.

Untreated CD can lead to life threatening diseases including diseases and cancer. This is a concern because CD is more common than previously thought.