Celiac disease

Synonyms: Gluten intolerance, Celiac sprue, Gluten-sensitive

Medical Specialties: Allergy/immunology, Gastroenterology

Clinical Definition

Celiac disease is a digestive, autoimmune disorder characterized by intolerance to gluten, a protein found in wheat products and other foods. When gluten is ingested, the immune system forms antibodies that bind to parts of the villi of the small intestine, resulting in inflammation, damage to the intestine and malnutrition. 

In Our Own Words

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder triggered by gluten proteins, which are found in all wheat products, including wheat, rye and barley, and in many other foods that use wheat in the manufacturing process. When a person with celiac disease eats gluten, the body’s immune system overacts, attacking not only the proteins but also the small intestine itself, especially the small, hair-like villi, which is where nutrients are absorbed. This assault reduces the small bowel’s ability to absorb vital nutrients from food.

Celiac disease affects an estimated 1 in 133 people and can be fatal if the nutrient deficiency becomes too severe. There is no cure for celiac disease, but the symptoms can be effectively managed by following a gluten-free diet.

Relevant Conditions
  • Allergy
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Gluten sensitivity
  • Osteoporosis
Side Effects
  • Anemia
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
Share this article
  • Cleveland Clinic. “Celiac Disease” reviewed March 5, 2013. clevelandclinic.org. Accessed July 2013.
  • Center for Celiac Research & Treatment. “Celiac Disease FAQ” 2012. www.celiaccenter.org. Accessed July 2013.
  • Celiac Disease Foundation. “Celiac Disease.” www.celiac.org. Accessed July 2013.
  • The Merck Manual. “Celiac Disease” reviewed Aug. 2012. www.merckmanuals.com. Accessed July 2013.
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