CINCINNATI—Celiac disease is gaining more attention as more people are diagnosed, but a UC Health expert says that the illness is still under-recognized and needs to be discussed more in detail to help those whom it affects.
"Celiac disease is a life-long inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract that affects the small intestine in genetically susceptible individuals,” says Donald Schoch, MD, a UC Health digestive diseases expert who will be speaking at the Celiac Awareness Tour, being held Saturday, Sept. 24. "It causes inflammation in the small bowel, which is the part of the digestive disease system also known as the gut, where most of the nutrients in our food are absorbed.
"This inflammation occurs in response to exposure to gluten, which is a protein contained in wheat.”
Schoch says that people who are affected by the disease have an inappropriate immune response to ingested gluten that causes inflammatory injury to the small intestine.
"Celiac disease can affect multiple organ systems and cause various symptoms."
Schoch says that the disease can develop at any point in life.
Possible symptoms may include:
· Weight loss.
· A decrease in appetite.
· Lactose intolerance.
· Dyspepsia, or indigestion.
· Altered bowel habits.
"Diagnosis and treatment of the disease is important because some of the effects can be serious, including a small increased risk of cancer,” he says.
He says there are six key elements to managing the disease: Consulting with a skilled dietitian, being educated about the disease, adhering to a gluten-free diet, identifying and treating nutritional deficiencies, having access to an advocacy group, and continuously seeking long-term follow-up care by a multidisciplinary team.
One reason Schoch is looking forward to talking at the Celiac Awareness Tour is that this disease or questions about this disease are a common reason for patients to seek consultation with a gastroenterologist.
"I stress that this care needs to be life-long and long-term,” Schoch says. "A gluten-free diet means eliminating wheat, rye and barley from your diet.”
In addition, Schoch stresses the genetic factor with this illness.
"Relatives of celiac disease patients are at a greater risk of developing the disease themselves,” he says. "First- and second-degree relatives have between a 5 to 20 percent risk of having the disease and should be screened. There are simple blood tests that can be used for screening.
"The disease can be troublesome and even in some individuals serious. However, with proper adherence to dietary restrictions, it can almost always be easily managed without medications or other more complicated treatment.”