(Celiac Sprue; Nontropical Sprue; Gluten-Sensitive Enteropathy)
by Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Celiac disease is a chronic digestive and immune disorder that damages the small intestine. The immune system overreacts to foods that contain gluten. This is a protein that is found in wheat, barley, and rye. Eating these foods damages bulges (villi) in the small intestine. This makes it hard for the body to get the nutrients that it needs.
This problem is caused by a response to eating foods that have gluten. It is not known why this happens in some people. Genetics play a role.
This problem is more common in women. Other things that may raise the risk are:
Symptoms vary from person to person. They are also not the same in children as in adults.
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Blood tests will be done to look for antibodies and genes linked to the disease.
Images will be taken of the intestines. This can be done with endoscopy. A tissue sample may be taken at the same time. This can be done with a biopsy.
There is no cure. The goal of treatment is to manage symptoms. This can only be done with a life-long, gluten-free diet. A dietitian can help with meal planning. A person must avoid all foods that contain wheat, rye, and barley. This will mean reading food labels carefully. Special care will also need to be taken when eating out.
Vitamin and mineral supplements may also be given to improve nutrition.
This risk of this problem may be lowered by delaying when gluten is given to young children who are at risk. This decision will need to be made between a parent and the child's doctor.
Celiac Disease Foundation
National Celiac Association
Canadian Celiac Association
Caio G, Volta U, et al. Celiac disease: a comprehensive current review. BMC Med. 2019 Jul 23;17(1):142.
Celiac disease. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/celiac-disease. Accessed March 24, 2021.
Celiac disease. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/celiac-disease. Accessed March 24, 2021.
Last reviewed December 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Daniel A. Ostrovsky, MD
Last Updated: 03/25/2021