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1 year ago
Could You Have Celiac Disease?

Now that going gluten-free is so trendy, it can be easy to forget that, for some people, giving up gluten isn’t a choice—it’s a health requirement. And unfortunately, the disease that’s causing people to cut out wheat isn’t going away. In fact, the number of new celiac disease diagnoses in America has continued to increase over the last decade, according to a new study in The American Journal of Gastroenterology.

Using a population-based sample from Olmsted County, MN, researchers identified all of the new cases of celiac disease since 2000 and used that data to estimate the incidence rates for the whole country. They found that the number of new cases per year rose from 11 people per 100,000 in 2000 to 17 people per 100,000 in 2010.

While researchers aren’t sure exactly what could be causing all of the new cases, previous research has suggested that prior gastrointestinal infections, breastfeeding practices, and changes in the production of wheat, among other things, may be to blame.

Even though celiac disease seems to be everywhere, the overall prevalence is still only 0.7 percent, or 1 in 141 people, according to the recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. You probably know more than one or two people who avoid gluten, though—so what’s up with that?

In addition to the 1 in 141 people who have celiac disease, an additional 1 in 180 people have a non-celiac gluten sensitivity*, which is when you have similar symptoms (diarrhea, abdominal pain, weight loss, etc.) that are alleviated by a gluten-free diet, but you aren’t diagnosed with celiac disease because you haven’t suffered damage to the small intestine, says Alberto Rubio-Tapia, MD, a co-author on the study and assistant professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic. Of course, countless others are also cutting out wheat due to the recent influx of people raving about seeing health benefits after going gluten-free. And let’s face it, curbing your cookie and pasta intake is bound to slim you down.

If you suspect that your body and gluten don’t mix, it’s absolutely crucial to see your doctor before you tweak your diet, says lead study author Joseph Murray, MD, professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic.

The first step will be a blood test, but your results may turn up normal—regardless of whether you have celiac disease—if you've already cut out gluten. If you get tested at the first sign of symptoms and still get a negative diagnosis, you might be suffering from a different condition like irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease. If your blood test comes back positive for celiac, you’ll still need a biopsy of the small intestine to confirm whether you have the disease or a non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

If you are one of the 0.7 percent of people who do have celiac disease, the foundation of your treatment will be eliminating gluten from your diet, says Murray. You may also be given supplements to deal with deficiencies (like anemia or vitamin D deficiency), which can happen when you’re dealing with intestinal damage. Finally, follow-up with your doctor after six months sans gluten to make sure your symptoms are improving.

*According to results from the Continuous National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2009-2010. 

photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock
More from Women's Health:
Is Gluten Bad For You? 
Will Gluten-Free Diets Help You Lose Weight?
6 Gluten-Free Foods That Make You Fat 

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