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5/3/22 blog post

could my child's tummy aches be celiac disease?

When our children complain of stomach pain, or experience diarrhea after eating, it’s hard to know as parents if it is a typical childhood reaction, or if your child has a sensitivity or intolerance to certain foods. If your child regularly shows symptoms of stomach pain, diarrhea, tiredness or skin rashes after eating foods such as pizza, fried chicken or pasta, they may be experiencing an intolerance to gluten known as celiac disease. About 1 in every 133 people in the United States has celiac disease. Many people who have celiac disease do not know it.

what is celiac disease?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition triggered by gluten that leads to damage in the small intestine. Gluten is the general name of the proteins found in wheat, rye and barley and other grains.

In kids with celiac disease, gluten damages villi. Villi are the finger-like projections in the small intestine responsible for absorbing nutrients from food. When the villi are damaged, the body can’t absorb nutrients the body needs. If that happens, a child can become underweight and grow poorly.

Some people who eat gluten can have symptoms such as diarrhea, abdominal pain and bloating, weight loss, tiredness, and skin rashes. Some people with celiac disease have no symptoms at all, but still have gluten-induced damage to their small intestine.

People with celiac disease are at risk of malnutrition, anemia (fewer red blood cells due to lack of iron), and osteoporosis (weakened bones from lack of calcium). There is currently no cure for celiac disease, but there are ways to minimize symptoms and damage to the intestines.

what is the difference between a gluten intolerance and celiac disease?

Some people experience symptoms found in celiac disease, but they do not test positive for celiac disease. This is usually referred to as non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) or non-celiac wheat sensitivity (NCWS).

The difference between a gluten intolerance and celiac disease is that a gluten intolerance causes short-term symptoms and doesn’t usually cause long-term harm to the body. Individuals with gluten intolerance may find relief by the volume of gluten in their diet or eliminating gluten from their diet entirely.

what are the signs and symptoms of celiac disease?

According to KidsHealth, some common symptoms of celiac disease are:

  • diarrhea
  • decreased appetite 
  • stomachache and bloating
  • poor growth
  • weight loss.

Someone with celiac disease may feel tired and could be irritable. Some may develop skin rashes and mouth sores. Celiac disease is sometimes mistaken for other digestive problems called inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or lactose intolerance. And in some cases, a kid won't have any symptoms and then will suddenly start having problems during a time of stress, such as after an injury.

when are kids diagnosed with celiac disease?

Many kids are diagnosed with it when they're between 6 months and 2-years-old, which is when most kids get their first taste of gluten in foods.

For some people, the problems start slowly, and the symptoms may be terrible one week and not as bad the next. Because of this, some people aren't diagnosed with celiac disease until they're older. The problem is chronic, which means that although symptoms may come and go, people who have celiac disease will always have it.

when should I take my child to see a specialist?

If your child is having a lot of stomachaches, diarrhea, weight loss, or any of the other symptoms of celiac disease you should talk to their primary care provider or schedule an appointment with one of our pediatric gastroenterologists. Their symptoms may or may not be related to celiac disease, but your child’s provider can help sort it out and will usually order a simple blood test that measures the level of antibodies to gluten and other proteins involved in celiac disease. If high levels of these antibodies are found, a pediatric gastroenterologist will likely order an upper endoscopy of the small intestine and send it to a laboratory for testing.

If your child is diagnosed with celiac disease, they will be paired with a physician and a dietitian specialized in treating children with this disorder. The dietitian will work with you and your child on implementing a new gluten-free lifestyle.

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Sean Bingham, DO

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