Celiac on the Rise: October 22, 2011

He knew something was wrong, but it took almost a year before Ray Cyr found the root of his problem.

“There’s different manifestations and I did have some of the stomach and GI issues.”

Turns out Ray is among the growing number of people diagnosed with celiac disease, it’s an autoimmune disorder brought on by sensitivity to gluten. Celiac disease attacks the small intestine and interferes with digestion.

“They have diarrhea, they get fat in the bowel movement, they start to lose weight they cant absorb iron and they get anemic they cant absorb B12 they can’t absorb some of the fat soluble vitamins like vitamin K,” says Dr. Michael Bays, a gastroenterologist on the medical staff of Lee Memorial Health System.

“To tell you the truth I didn’t know much about it at all, so it was I had a lot of learning to do and a complete change in my diet,” says Ray.

Eliminating gluten products found in the grains wheat, rye and barley, decrease symptoms. What’s not decreasing is the number of people with celiac disease.

Nearly five times as many people have celiac disease today than did during the 1950s and it now affects one in every 133 U.S. citizens.

One explanation is improved diagnostics.

“They did biopsies in the small bowel in the early fifties, nowadays it’s a blood test that is about 95% sensitive and that’s why you’ve seen such a major increase,” says Dr. Bays.

If unmanaged, adults with active celiac disease are likely to develop anemia, fatigue, osteoporosis and arthritis as the disorder robs them of nutrients.

“There’s a lot of people walking around that don’t even know they have it and then they get cramping and bloating and they think they have irritable bowel,” says Dr. Bays.

With the right diagnosis, people like Ray are better off engraining themselves with new eating habits.

“I got very good at reading labels and writing companies or emailing companies to get information, asking restaurants, things like that.”