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Cheat Sheet

Celiac Disease For Dummies

For people with celiac disease, consuming gluten — a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and some other grains — leads to damage to the lining of the small intestine, resulting in the inability to properly absorb nutrients into the body. Left untreated or insufficiently treated, celiac disease can lead to damage to other organs. If properly treated, celiac disease typically leads to . . . nothing! These articles indicate who should be screened for celiac disease, highlight some of the disease’s most common symptoms, offer some valuable hints on shopping for food to ensure your diet is gluten-free, and provide tips on living healthfully with celiac disease.

Who Should Be Screened for Celiac Disease?

Although you may not have any of the symptoms of celiac disease, you may still have the condition and be endangering your health through the consumption of gluten. Some people without symptoms of celiac disease should consider being screened for the ailment, which usually involves blood tests and always involves taking a biopsy if the blood test is positive.

Your doctor and you should discuss testing you for celiac disease if you have any of the following:

  • A first degree relative (that is, a parent, sibling, or child) with celiac disease.

  • Another disease that often occurs together with celiac disease and therefore puts you at increased risk of having celiac disease. An example is Type 1 diabetes.

  • A health problem that can be caused by celiac disease. Examples are osteoporosis and iron deficiency.

Symptoms of Celiac Disease

Do you suspect that you or someone in your family has celiac disease and maybe you or they should give up gluten? Symptoms of undiagnosed or insufficiently treated celiac disease can vary greatly in their nature and number (including having no symptoms at all), but some symptoms are more common than others.

If you have one or more of the following symptoms — especially if persisting and/or severe — speak to your doctor about the possibility you that have celiac disease:

  • Gastrointestinal symptoms, especially

    • Diarrhea

    • Stools that are bulky, foul-smelling, and stick to the toilet bowl

    • Abdominal bloating, especially after meals

    • Indigestion, reflux, heartburn

  • Unexplained or unexpected weight loss

  • Small, intensely itchy, pinkish blisters on the elbows, knees, or buttocks (less often on the shoulders, scalp, face, and back). This may indicate a skin disease, very closely related to celiac disease, called dermatitis herpetiformis

  • In a child, failure to grow and develop normally

Gluten-Free Food Shopping Tips

If you have celiac disease, you need to maintain a gluten-free diet to stay healthy, but shopping for foods without gluten can be a challenge. Here are some tips to help you avoid gluten-containing foods and find gluten-free foods in your grocery store:

  • Become a label-reader. In North America, it is the law that food that contains gluten must say so on the label.

  • Choose naturally gluten-free foods. These include fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, meat, poultry, fish, seafood, dairy products and certain grains such as rice and (pure) oats.

  • Look for foods that contain the following gluten-free grains: rice, corn, (pure) oats, soy, millet, teff, sorghum, buckwheat, quinoa, and amaranth.

  • Be careful when buying prepared foods such as those that come in cans, boxes, jars and other packages. Make use of various on-line and published resources to assist you in finding and buying prepared and packaged foods that are gluten-free.

  • Because they contain gluten, avoid the following products:

    • Barley malt, malt extract, malt syrup, and malt vinegar

    • Soya sauce (unless made from non-gluten-containing food sources)

    • Modified food starch if it is derived from wheat

    • Brewer’s yeast

    • Products that do not specify their content

  • Take your child along. If you are shopping for your child with celiac disease, if they are sufficiently mature, bring them with you (some of the time anyhow) as you shop, and make it into a gluten-free learning experience for them.

Tips for Living Successfully with Celiac Disease

If you or your child has celiac disease, you can still live healthy, active, full, rich and rewarding lives. Staying gluten-free is just one part of not just surviving but thriving with celiac disease. Follow these helpful tips and you’ll be well on your way to living successfully:

  • Strive to be healthy. Commit to living gluten-free, eating nutritiously and exercising regularly.

  • Keep informed about your disease. Keep tabs on good quality Web sites. Join a support group in your community (or online).

  • Prepare for your child’s visit to friends. Let your child’s friend’s parents know that your child must not eat gluten and let them know what this means. Help out by sending gluten-free snacks with your child.

  • Learn how to eat out without standing out. Call ahead before you go to a restaurant for dinner to let them know of your gluten-free eating needs and to make sure they can accommodate them. Show restaurant staff dining cards that contain information on gluten-free eating.

  • Be prepared for questions about your celiac disease. Many people, either out of concern and caring, or sometimes out of simple curiosity, will ask you about your celiac disease, so be prepared to provide an answer you’re comfortable sharing.

  • Prepare for travelling adventures. Where you go, your celiac disease goes with you, so think about how you will manage your gluten-free eating needs whether you’re travelling to the cottage, across the country, or across the globe.

  • Deal with the slipups. At some point or another, and for a variety of reasons, you’re bound to consume some gluten. Don’t get discouraged; life happens. Just remind yourself that gluten isn’t plutonium; your misadventure won’t kill you; then jump right back on the gluten-free wagon.

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