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NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center - Center for Advanced Digestive Care

NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center - Center for Advanced Digestive Care

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease (CD), also known as gluten-sensitive enteropathy, is an inflammatory autoimmune disease in which eating gluten, a component of certain grains - wheat, rye, and barley - results in the destruction of the small intestine's villi, small fingerlike structures which are responsible for absorbing nutrients. When villi cannot absorb nutrients from food, malnutrition results and can affect many of the body's organs and tissues, including the skin, bones, and teeth, the nervous system, and reproductive organs.

Thought at one time to be fairly rare in this country, new research conducted at NewYork-Presbyterian and elsewhere indicates that celiac disease (CD) is fairly common in the US. Experts estimate that about 1 in 100 Americans have CD, but about 97% remain undiagnosed. About 3 million Americans are thought to have the disease.

For more information on celiac disease, including symptoms and risk factors, visit our Health Library.

Diagnosis

Symptoms of celiac disease are often similar to those of other digestive diseases making it difficult to diagnose, which is why some patients go undiagnosed for years. However, new diagnostic methods are facilitating faster and more accurate diagnosis.

If celiac disease is suspected, your physician will take a blood sample and test it for certain antibodies, including:

  • anti-gliadin antibodies
  • anti-endomysial antibodies
  • anti-tissue transglutaminase antibodies
  • total immunoglobulin A levels

Your physician will also want to determine whether any nutritional deficiencies exist, such as iron, folate (a B-vitamin), vitamin B-12, calcium and vitamin D, as well as copper and zinc levels.

You may also have an endoscopic examination of your small intestine, where biopsies of the duodenum will be taken to look for changes characteristic of celiac disease.

Treatment

There is no cure for celiac disease, but it is treated effectively by eliminating gluten from the diet for life. With strict adherence to a gluten-free diet, it is possible to stop and even reverse damage to the intestine.

There are many foods containing flour of particular grains and vegetables that are allowable to eat, including potatoes, corn, buckwheat, rice, bean and soy. Newly-diagnosed patients should consult a nutritionist knowledgeable about celiac disease to help them plan a proper diet.