Conditions InDepth: Celiac Disease
by Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Celiac disease is a digestive problem that is triggered by a reaction to gluten. This causes damage to the intestines. This makes it hard for a person with the disease to get nutrients from foods.
The small intestine is a long tube that links the stomach with colon. Its role is to absorb nutrients from food as it passes through. This is done through tiny, finger-like bulges called villi that line the inside of it.
This disease happens because of a problem with the immune system. An abnormal response causes the villi to shorten and flatten when a person with celiac disease eats gluten. This blocks the small intestine from absorbing nutrients, vitamins, and minerals from foods.
It is not known why this happens. There is a gene that is common in people who have the disease. The gene runs in families, but not everyone who has the gene will have problems. The only way to treat the disease is not to eat foods that have gluten.
Not treating the disease can lead to:
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 January 4, 2021.
Celiac disease. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at:
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Accessed January 4, 2021.
Definition & facts for 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/definition-facts. Accessed January 4, 2021.
What is celiac disease? Celiac Disease Foundation website. Available at: https://celiac.org/celiac-disease/understanding-celiac-disease-2/what-is-celiac-disease. Accessed January 4, 2021.
Last reviewed December 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Daniel A. Ostrovsky, MD
Last Updated: 1/4/2021
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