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Doctors & Advice

What Is Celiac Disease?

September 20, 2021

Celiac disease is an “immune-mediated” digestive condition. This means that, when one of the estimated 1 million Americans with the disease eats food that contains gluten, their small intestines become irritated. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley; eating gluten-containing foods brings discomfort and pain—but the problem doesn’t stop there, because the initial irritation can lead to more and more inflammation. As a result, people with celiac disease that is not well-managed are unable to properly absorb nutrients from their food. While some people with celiac disease struggle with diarrhea, constipation and/or vomiting, others have only mild symptoms or none at all.    

Celiac disease in children is of particular concern, since it can interfere with growth and development. According to Anthony Porto, MD, MPH, director of the Yale Medicine Pediatric Celiac program, the key is to stop gluten exposure. While this can be a lengthy and inconvenient process (because cutting gluten from someone’s diet can eliminate many foods) the results are worth it, he says.  

“It takes a while to undo but when it’s undone, the intestines will be normal again, your child will absorb the food properly and then they can live normal happy lives,” Dr. Porto says.  

In this video, Dr. Porto explains celiac disease and its treatment options.