Senior Care Blog Wayland and Weston

May is Celiac Awareness Month – Find Out More About This Autoimmune Disease

By Denise Roskamp

Celiac disease is a genetic disease that affects the autoimmune system. In other words, it involves your body working against itself, trying too hard to protect you from things you might not necessarily need protection from.

The ingestion of gluten is the main instigator of this overprotective process. When someone with celiac disease consumes gluten (which can appear in many food products we normally consume every day, most notably wheat-based products), their body begins to attack itself, focusing on the small intestine. The body’s intentions are pure – it is only trying to fight off what it is mistakenly programmed to see as a threat to the body – but the results can be disastrous.

When the autoimmune system attacks the small intestine, it damages or destroys the villi that exist there. These villi line the interior of the small intestine, and help our bodies to take in the nutrients that need. When these villi are attacked, though, this inhibits the small intestine’s ability to absorb nutrients, which can lead to a great decline in one’s health.

The only “cure” for celiac disease is to avoid gluten at all costs. Avoiding gluten can stop these autoimmune attacks from happening in the future, but it can also give the body time to repair the damage it has done to itself. These repairs could take anywhere from a few weeks to a few years, so the sooner one begins to stick to a gluten-free diet, the better!

If you and/or your loved one have a relative that suffers from celiac disease, you are much more likely to be at risk for it. Someone with a parent who has celiac disease has a one in ten chance of contracting the disease his- or herself. With that being said, it might be a good idea to take a look at the symptoms of celiac disease. That way, if you or your senior care aide notice any of these signs in your aging loved one, in yourselves, or in your children, you can get it checked out right away, so that you can begin to alter your diet and feel better sooner.

Symptoms of celiac disease:

  • Anemia
  • Malnutrition (not getting enough nutrients to stay healthy and vibrant)
  • Problems with muscle coordination
  • Stomach pain
  • Heartburn
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Gas
  • Lactose intolerance (the inability to drink milk or other dairy products due to the body’s adverse reaction to them)
  • Bone or joint pain
  • Hair loss

While no one symptom described above is conclusively a sign of celiac disease, it could be one of several signs that your body is not working the way it should. If your body cannot absorb the nutrients it needs through the small intestine, it will not be as healthy as it needs to be, leading to many of the above problems.

While celiac disease if often first diagnosed in childhood, its symptoms are often not recognized, or are misdiagnosed as another condition. This means that one can suffer from celiac disease for most of one’s life and not know it, which means that one can be diagnosed with it at any age. It is important to note any of the above symptoms if they appear in your aging loved one, as some lifestyle and diet changes can be in order.