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Celiac Disease: It’s Symptoms, Causes and Complications

Dr. Omer Hassan Aftab Ahmed

2 min read

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Causing adverse reactions upon ingesting gluten, the constituent protein of wheat, barley and rye, Celiac Disease is one ring above Gluten Intolerance in that it is a chronic autoimmune disorder that slowly damages the small intestine due to continued gluten use. Affecting more than 1 in 100 people worldwide according to celiac.org, celiac disease can develop at any age and can reduce quality of life in adults while negatively affecting growth and development in children.

How It Happens:

Due to a genetic defect, the immune system mistakenly identifies and attacks gluten-containing food when it reaches the small intestine. The tiny hair-like projections called ‘villi’ that line the small intestine and are responsible for absorbing nutrients from food are caught in the crossfire and damaged. Over time, the continued destruction of villi every time a gluten-containing food is ingested reduces the amount of nutrients absorbed by the body, hence resulting in multiple nutritional deficiencies and exposing the body to numerous health conditions.


Like its effects, the symptoms of celiac disease vary in children and adults:

  1. In Adults:
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Joint pain
  • Depression
  • Weight loss
  • Abdominal pain
  • Pale mouth ulcers
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Tooth enamel damage
  • Iron deficiency anemia
  • Acid reflux and heartburn
  • Bloating, gas and constipation
  • Hyposplenism (underactive spleen)
  • Osteoporosis or Osteomalacia (softened bones)
  • Dermatitis herpetiformis (itchy, blistered skin rash)
  • Nervous system disorders like numbness and tingling in the feet and hands, and balance, speech, and coordination issues
  1. In Children:

Under 2 Years:

  • Vomiting
  • Poor appetite
  • Swollen belly
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Decelerated physical growth

Over 2 Years:

  • Diarrhea
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Weight loss
  • Constipation
  • Small height
  • Delayed puberty
  • pale, fatty, foul-smelling stool
  • Lack of muscular coordination and seizures
  • Learning disabilities, ADHD and other neural conditions


While the actual cause is as undetermined, scientists have concluded that the presence of the HLA-DQ2 and/or HLA-DQ8 genes inherited from one or both parents is the primary cause of the condition’s characteristic autoimmune reactions in most affected individuals. Moreover, the condition may also be triggered following childbirth, a viral infection, surgery, or severe emotional stress, or even during pregnancy, in some individuals.

Risk Factors:

While celiac disease can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity, presence of the following factors may increase the risk of disease development:

  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Addison’s disease
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Down or Turner’s syndrome
  • Microscopic colitis (inflamed colon or large intestine)
  • Thyroid Disease (hyper or hypothyroidism, Hashimoto’s disease, etc.)
  • A first blood relation (mother, father, brother, sister) with celiac disease or dermatitis herpetiformis


Untreated celiac disease can instigate the following health conditions:

  • Deficiencies in iron, vitamin B6 and B12, folate and other vital nutrients due to the small intestine’s reduced absorption rate can lead to malnutrition and anemia.
  • Osteoporosis in adults and rickets in children can result from the diminished absorption of calcium and vitamin D. Some women may repeatedly miscarry or become infertile altogether due to these deficiencies.
  • It can induce temporary or permanent lactose intolerance, i.e. extreme abdominal pain and diarrhea after eating lactose-containing dairy products.
  • An increased risk of developing small bowel and small intestine cancer, among others.
  • Certain individuals may suffer from seizures, nerve damage in the hands and feet (peripheral neuropathy), epilepsy, dementia, migraines, and other neurological disorders.
  • Children may also experience growth deceleration, puberty delays, irritability, dental enamel defects, weight loss, and epilepsy.

Although celiac disease may not be easily detectable in most individuals, experiencing any relevant symptoms, like paleness, irritability, potbellies, foul-smelling, bulky stools, and stunted growth in children, and diarrhea or prolonged digestive discomfort in adults, requires urgent medical consultation. You can also book an appointment with a top Gastroenterologist in Lahore, Karachi and Rawalpindi through oladoc.com, or call our helpline at 042-3890-0939  for assistance to find the RIGHT Doctor for your gastric concerns.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are intended to raise awareness about common health issues and should not be viewed as sound medical advice for your specific condition. You should always consult with a licensed medical practitioner prior to following any suggestions outlined in this article or adopting any treatment protocol based on the contents of this article.

Dr. Omer Hassan Aftab Ahmed
Dr. Omer Hassan Aftab Ahmed - Author Dr. Omer Hassan Aftab Ahmed is among the Best Gastroenterologists in Islamabad. Dr. Omer Hassan Aftab Ahmed is a Gastroenterologist practicing in Islamabad.

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