May – Celiac Awareness Month
The prevalence of gluten-related disorders has quadrupled in North America. Nearly 10% of the population is at risk of being affected by a gluten-related disorder, which is a serious public health issue according to Dr. Idris Saïah, immunologist and researcher at CHU Sainte-Justine.
A Few Facts
- 1% of the population suffers from celiac disease.
- 6-8% of the population suffers from non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
- The prevalence of gluten-related disorders is 20-30% higher in families where one member is affected 1.
Celiac Awareness Month2 aims to increase the number of diagnoses among the population to help better manage people’s health problems, since gluten-related disorders affect a growing number of individuals.
An Under-Diagnosed Illness
Despite improvements in the amount of time needed for a diagnosis (which was 12 years in 2013)3, celiac disease and other gluten-related disorders remain under-diagnosed due to their often unusual or subtle symptoms. Thus many people suffer for several years before being diagnosed and are unfortunately in a precarious state of health at the time of diagnosis.
Studies estimate that for every person diagnosed with Celiac Disease, five or six others do not know they have the condition, with many being adults experiencing no gastro-intestinal symptoms.
Most Frequent Celiac Disease Symptoms
- Recurring diarrhea or constipation
- Anemia or other nutritional deficiencies
- Fatigue and joint pain
- Stunted growth in children
The diagnosis of celiac disease includes a medical questionnaire, serological tests and an intestinal biopsy. Genetic tests (HLA) can also be undertaken. The diagnosis will be established according to the attending physician’s judgment and depending on the data collected.
It’s important to continue eating gluten throughout the entire process, from visiting the doctor until the diagnosis.
Why to Ask a Doctor before Starting a Gluten-Free Diet
Without being diagnosed, some people opt for a gluten-free diet because they notice a reduction of their discomforts when they remove gluten, completely or in part, from their diet.
The consequences can be numerous:
- The only treatment for celiac disease is a strict life-long gluten-free diet, which implies constant vigilance to avoid gluten contamination. Exposure to gluten, even in tiny quantities and in the absence of symptoms, damages the affected person’s health.
- Removing gluten from the diet can distort test results that could lead to diagnosis.
- Untreated celiac disease can cause health problems that are often irreversible and more serious (such as developing other auto-immune diseases and cancer).
- A gluten free diet is restrictive and can cause nutritional deficiencies if it is not balanced.
- The symptoms can mask other illnesses whose diagnosis is just as important.
The Importance of Talking to Family Members
Celiac disease must not be taboo in the affected person’s family since it is hereditary and can develop at any age. Family members should therefore advise their doctor.
The Fondation québéquoise de la maladie coeliaque (FQMC) (Quebec Foundation for Celiac Disease) is a charitable organization whose mission is to make gluten-free living simpler and safer.
- Laurencelle, S. Mai, mois de sensibilisation de la maladie cœliaque. Info Cœliaque – Vol 33. No. 1 Printemps-Été 2016
- Idriss Djilali Saiah, Le profil génétique de la maladie coeliaque au Québec. (Projet de recherche hétérogéniétique de la maladie coeliaque – phase 1). Info Coeliaque – Vol 27. No.2 Automne 20110
- Pulido O, Zarkadas M. Dubois S. et al. Clinical and symptom recovery on a gluten-free diet in Canadian adults, with celiac disease. Can J. Gastroenterol 2013:27 98):449-453
Marie-Eve Deschênes, RD, has been a dietitian at the Québec Celiac Foundation since 2008 and member of the College of Dieticians of Quebec.
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