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Mystery Illness: Celiac Disease : July 05, 2011

Susan Sprehn enjoyed a healthy diet, so she never suspected the food she was eating was making her sick.

“I’m like celiac?! Come on I don’t have celiac and I’m like well what is that?”

Susan’s gastroenterologist explained her anemia and digestive problems were caused by celiac disease. It creates inflammation of the small bowel. The resulting thickening of the bowel prevents nutrients from being absorbed.

You may hear it called a wheat allergy.

“It’s a little more complicated than that because the disease itself is a disease of your immune system, it has to do with your T cells, its usually inherited,” says Dr. Michael Bays gastroenterologist with Lee Memorial Health System.

When someone gets a diagnosis that they have celiac disease, they have to overhaul their diet and steer clear of anything with wheat.

“That defect causes a reaction when you eat wheat products and when you don’t eat wheat products you don’t get a reaction,” says Dr. Bays.

“I walked outta there thinking my life just changed, I’m in trouble here, I have to figure this out,” says Sprehn.

Susan quickly switched to a gluten free diet. Her symptoms disappeared, her small bowel is recovering, and she learned from the experience.

“It’s not a terrible disease, number one, number two you are going to feel better with some simple changes.”

Genetic tests would show approximately 1 in 200 people have celiac, with 1 in 8,000 suffering severe symptoms. Many of these people walk around without the slightest idea.

“One in about one hundred people that come to a GI doctor for irritable bowel, don’t have irritable bowel. They have celiac disease,” says Dr. Bays.

A simple blood test called a celiac panel can detect your body’s sensitivity to gluten and put you on the path to healthy living.