Advance with MUSC Health

Celiac Disease Awareness Month: To Gluten or Not to Gluten?

Advance With MUSC Health
April 27, 2023
Dr. Ashley Beckum

May is Celiac Disease Awareness Month, a time to get educated about this serious genetic autoimmune disease. Here to talk about it is Dr. Ashley Beckum of MUSC Health - Primary Care - Hoffmeyer.

What is celiac disease?

Celiac (SEE-lee-ack) disease is caused by a swelling in the small intestine from eating gluten. When the gut swells, it’s not able to absorb the nutrients it needs. Gluten is a general name for proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye. This disease affects approximately 1 in 100 people in the United States. You may be asking what kind of people are at higher risk for celiac disease. Risk factors include having an immediate relative with celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, autoimmune thyroid disease, or Down syndrome.

What are the symptoms of celiac disease?

Many of my patients complain about an upset stomach that has lasted for months or even years. Some of these symptoms may include diarrhea, bloating, abdominal pain or gas. When going to the bathroom, your stool may be bulky, foul-smelling or floating in the toilet. A lot of people may experience unintentional weight loss. Sometimes skin and tongue changes can be signs of celiac disease, but they are less common than the previously stated symptoms. 

How is celiac disease diagnosed?

Diagnosis begins with a blood test. If the blood test is positive, or if you are at high risk of having the disease, your doctor may order an esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD) test. An EGD involves using an endoscope with a camera on the end passed down your throat to examine the upper GI tract i.e., esophagus, or stomach. During the EGD, the physician may take a sample, also called a biopsy, to send to the lab. This is how a physician can confirm if you have celiac disease. The EGD test is an outpatient procedure and doesn’t typically involve a hospital stay.

How is it treated?

Unfortunately, no quick-fix medication is available for celiac disease. Your health care provider will recommend a lifestyle change by removing gluten from your diet. Making this lifestyle change usually helps people feel significantly better and must be continued for the rest of the patient’s life. As a side note, feeling better on a gluten-free diet does not mean you have celiac disease.

Which foods have gluten in them?

Common gluten-heavy foods include bread, pasta, cereal, crackers, cakes, cookies and pies. People with celiac disease are not typically affected by rice, oats or corn. Luckily, local grocery stores and restaurants offer many gluten-free options. A gluten-free diet can also be considered healthy for the average person in case a patient's family would like to support them by following the diet, too!

For more information about celiac disease or to schedule an appointment, Dr. Ashley Beckum can be reached by calling 843-679-4214, or by visiting the MUSC Health – Primary Care – Hoffmeyer a page.