If you just received a celiac disease diagnosis, you likely feel a range of emotions. Fear, sadness, confusion, stress and shock are common feelings one may have. You probably have a ton of questions, too.
Celiac disease is no joke — if left untreated, it can cause adverse health symptoms, wreaking havoc on your digestive system. The disease can be challenging to deal with, especially after you receive your diagnosis. However, it’s also a challenge many people with celiac overcome.
Continue reading to learn more about your diagnosis, what lifestyle changes will occur and how you can manage and treat celiac disease to maintain a good quality of life.
An Overview of Celiac Disease
Celiac disease is a digestive and autoimmune disorder that hurts your small intestine, the organ that absorbs nutrients from food. Studies show around one in 133 Americans have celiac, and 1% of the world’s population has it.
When someone with celiac eats food containing gluten, their body does not react normally. The immune system starts attacking the tiny bumps — or villi — that line the small intestine and are responsible for nutrient absorption.
These bumps take in nutrients from food and allow them to pass through your bloodstream. Without functioning villi, your body cannot absorb nutrients, no matter how much food you eat.
Who Has Celiac Disease and What Are the Symptoms?
Celiac is common in people who:
- Are white
- Have type 1 diabetes
- Are infertile
- Have Down syndrome
- Have other autoimmune diseases
- Have irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhoea
Celiac can affect people in different ways. According to the Mayo Clinic, the most common symptoms of celiac include:
- Weight loss
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
Adults sometimes experience other symptoms unrelated to the digestive system, such as anaemia, joint pain, mouth ulcers, headaches, reduced spleen functioning and loss of bone density.
It’s also possible for someone to have celiac and not know it because they do not experience any symptoms. Certain external factors can cause celiac symptoms, such as pregnancy, surgery, high-stress levels, infection, childbirth or physical injury.
What to Expect After a Celiac Diagnosis
So, you receive a celiac diagnosis after your doctor assesses your symptoms, does bloodwork and performs an endoscopy. Now what?
First, a celiac diagnosis means you must stop eating anything with gluten. If you continue eating food or consuming other items containing gluten, you will continue to harm your small intestine.
Unfortunately, eliminating gluten from your diet is the only way to treat and manage your condition. You’ll have to take extra steps to ensure your food is gluten-free, such as reading labels at the grocery store, being careful at parties and watching what foods you snack on throughout the day. Gluten is also in certain beverages, such as beer, premade coffee drinks and drink mixes.
Transitioning from a traditional diet to a gluten-free one is challenging, especially in the beginning stages. Gluten is found in and can contaminate many foods. For example, some salad dressings and condiments have gluten. Other strange, unexpected gluten-related things are communion wafers, seasonings and some prescription or over-the-counter medications.
Transitioning to a Gluten-Free Diet
Up until now, you’ve probably come to know and love all types of foods. However, the ones you eat daily might contain gluten. Bread, pasta, pizza, baked goods, cereal, crackers and beer are some staple foods you must eliminate from your diet.
While this might seem like a significant challenge, the market for gluten-free food is growing because more people are diagnosed with celiac disease. In other words, gluten-free options are getting better and better.
Here are some essential tips to keep in mind as you start a gluten-free diet to manage celiac:
- Do research about celiac, purchase cookbooks for people with celiac and ask your doctor any questions you may have about changing your diet.
- Look for hidden sources of gluten — such as barley, rye or wheat — on food labels.
- Purchase foods certified as gluten-free to make the transition easier.
- Learn about naturally gluten-free foods to incorporate into your diets, such as meat, eggs, fruit, vegetables, nuts, rice and healthy fats.
- Be aware of cross-contamination.
- Choose restaurants offering gluten-free options, inform the servers about cross-contamination concerns and politely ask if they can accommodate your dietary restrictions.
Remember that knowing you have celiac can be a relief, especially if you’ve dealt with symptoms for a long time. The transition to gluten-free living can be frustrating at times. However, many organizations provide support, education, encouragement and tips on overcoming the challenges you’ll face after receiving a celiac diagnosis.
Living a Gluten-Free Lifestyle to Manage Celiac
Many people with celiac would agree it’s no walk in the park. You’ll have days where you crave gluten-containing foods or drinks, but you’ll also have days where you avoid gluten entirely and feel a great sense of accomplishment. Eating a gluten-free anti-inflammatory diet can be a tasty, delicious way to eat.
Make sure to rely on your doctors, family members and friends as you handle this diagnosis and the changes it brings. Go easy on yourself, and good luck on your gluten-free journey.