Celiac Disease (Gluten Intolerance): Causes & Symptoms

by Meenakshi Nagdeve last updated -

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Celiac disease, also known as coeliac disease, is sweeping across the world in ever-growing numbers. It was first given a name in the late 19th century, but it wasn’t until the past decade or so that people became keenly aware of this disease, which affects approximately 1 in 1,500 people in America, and studies are being done in other parts of the world as well. What was once considered a food allergy or a “sensitive stomach” is often some variation of the celiac disease, whether extremely mild or terribly severe.

What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease characterized by an inability of the small intestine to properly recognize and metabolize gluten, which is a prolamin and is commonly found in wheat. The small intestine’s enzymes transform gluten, and the immune system reacts and responds accordingly, trying to eliminate the gluten. This results in an inflammatory reaction in the small intestine, which leads to severe pain, digestive discomfort, nausea, diarrhea, and a number of other symptoms.


While gluten is considered as the primary cause of celiac disease, let us explore a few major causes:

Gluten foods - wheat, pasta, and bread with a no sign symbol and text that states "100% gluten-free"

  • Gluten allergy: Gluten is found in foods like wheat, rye, barley, farina, gram, among others. It is a protein, that when eaten by people with celiac disease, does immense damage to their villi, which are little finger-like protrusions that can be seen along the small intestinal wall. Furthermore, gluten is responsible for nutrient absorption. Therefore, when the inflammation damages the villi, people suffering from celiac disease are able to absorb fewer nutrients, often causing them to feel weak, and eat more food (some of which contains gluten) making the problem begin all over again. This is why proper diagnosis is essential, so dietary and behavioral remedies can be put in place before more serious damage is done.
  • Genetic/Inherited: The disease can be passed on in a family, but about 5% of celiac patients have also seemed to spontaneously develop the gene mutation, just like those who inherited it from their genes.

There are numerous other reasons including:

  • Environmental factors
  • Emotional stress
  • Abnormal interaction between the genes
  • Post-surgical stress
  • Stomach infections
  • Bacteria
  • Pregnancy and childbirth
  • Viral fevers


With the number of celiac patients rising every year, it is increasingly important to recognize when you might be developing the disease. The most common symptoms of celiac disease are:

In Adults

• A pale or loose stool
• Unexplained weight loss
• Loss of bone density
• Joint pain (Arthritis)
• Mouth ulcers
• Itchy, blistery rash (Dermatitis herpetiformis)
• Fatigue
Iron-deficiency anemia
Abdominal pain
• Cramping
• Bloating
• Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
• Nausea

In Children

Symptoms of the celiac disease among children are mostly related to the digestive system, they include the following:

• Diarrhea
• Bloating in the stomach
Abdominal pain
• Vomiting and nausea
• Smelly stool
• Fatigue
• Weight loss
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
• Halted physical growth
• Dental ailments
• Rashes

Furthermore, due to the inability to absorb nutrients properly, many different vitamin and mineral deficiencies can arise without the more obvious gastrointestinal symptoms. Celiac strikes people in varying degrees of severity, so many people continue to eat gluten and have no dramatic symptoms that might make them suspicious. However, fatigue, weakness, appetite loss, weight loss, and the complications of nutrient deficiency can often point to a mild form of the celiac disease. So be diligent and pay attention to your body!

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About the Author

Meenakshi Nagdeve, Co-Founder, Organic Facts is a health and wellness enthusiast and is responsible for managing it. She has completed the Nutrition And Healthy Living Cornell Certificate Program, Cornell University, US. She holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Management from IIM Bangalore and B. Tech in Metallurgical Engineering and Materials Science from IIT Bombay. Prior to this, she worked for a few years in IT and Financial services. An ardent follower of naturopathy, she believes in healing with foods. In her free time, she loves to travel and taste different types of teas.

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