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celiac disease in children

The ABC’s of Celiac Disease in Children

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Celiac disease is caused by gluten, a protein found in certain grains including wheat, rye and barley. You can find gluten in everything ranging from pizza to cereal. For many, it is an afterthought, but for some, eating it can cause an immune system reaction. Celiac disease, or gluten-sensitive enteropathy, is a genetic, autoimmune digestive disease that causes an inflammatory invasion and destruction of the villi that line the small intestine. Villi play an important role in absorbing the nutrients and vitamins from our food.

According to Children’s National, about one in 100 children have celiac disease. Celiac disease affects children in many different ways, depending on their age. It’s unknown why some children develop celiac disease earlier in life. However, symptoms can be managed by adapting a gluten-free lifestyle.

What are the symptoms?

Celiac disease develops in most children between the ages of 6 months to 2 years old.

Common symptoms:

  • Diarrhea
  • Decreased appetite
  • Stomachache
  • Bloating
  • Poor growth
  • Weight loss
  • Irritability
  • Feeling tired
  • Skin rashes
  • Mouth sores
  • Constipation

How is it diagnosed?

A screening blood antibody can help determine if your child has celiac disease. The blood test measures the levels of antibodies in the blood. Usually, people with high levels of antibodies in their blood have an allergy, which can include gluten. If your child’s levels are high, your doctor can perform an endoscopy with a small intestine biopsy. Endoscopy is the only way to confirm active celiac disease. This test is safe and can be done on small infants.

How is it treated?

You can treat your child’s celiac disease with a gluten-free diet, which means avoiding all forms of wheat, rye and barley. This can be extremely difficult if your child is invited to a pizza party. Support groups can help your child cope with the peer pressure of “cheating” on their diet. Moreover, children who are successful on their diet are children whose family participates in the diet.

Another treatment option is to avoid cross-contamination. This can easily happen in your kitchen. You should buy separate spreads and condiments to avoid cross-contamination as well as using different kitchen appliances. There’s also pre-packaged food that could be contaminated by gluten. It’s important to read food labels when grocery shopping. There are plenty of certified gluten-free foods available as well.

If you believe your child has celiac disease or a gluten-intolerance, click here to learn more and schedule an appointment.

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