Symptoms Of Celiac Disease In Children And Adults

symptoms of celiac disease

Celiac disease is a serious autoimmune disorder that affects the digestive processes in the small intestine. This genetically inherited condition triggered by eating gluten – the protein found in wheat, barley, and rye – damages the small intestine, thereby preventing nutrients in food from being properly absorbed into the body. About 1 in every 133 Americans has celiac disease – roughly 1% of the US population. In people who have a parent or sibling with celiac, the incidence is about 1 in 22.1

Like many diseases, early detection of celiac is key to managing it and preventing complications. Note, however, that celiac disease affects different people differently, which is exactly why it is so difficult to diagnose.2


Celiac Symptoms Are Mainly Digestive In Nature For Children

The most common symptoms of classical celiac disease in infants and children are digestive in nature and include:

  • Stomach pain
  • Chronic diarrhea and vomiting
  • Abdominal bloating and gas
  • Swollen stomach and a sensation that it is full
  • Constipation
  • Fatty or pale stool (steatorrhea) with a bad odor
  • Nausea3

Growth And Development Symptoms From Poor Nutrition In Children

When children are unable to properly absorb nutrients from food due to celiac, it impedes their healthy growth and well-being. Look out for additional signs like:

  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Mood instability, irritability, and exhaustion
  • Behavioral issues
  • Stunted growth
  • Delayed puberty
  • Short height4

Symptoms Of Celiac Disease In Adults Go Beyond Gastrointestinal Signs

Over 200 symptoms have been associated with celiac disease.5 Unlike children, though, the symptoms of celiac in adults aren’t primarily digestive in nature. In non-classical celiac disease, there may only be mild gastrointestinal symptoms, but a sequence of other seemingly unrelated symptoms kick in. Many of these signs can be chalked up to poor absorption of nutrients, while the trigger for others is still a mystery.6

[pullquote]Celiac poses a diagnostic challenge because it is a “multi-symptom, multi-organ” disease with no textbook signs to fall back on. From skin and teeth to the reproductive system, central nervous system, joints, liver, and spleen, different organs show non-specific symptoms in different ways.7[/pullquote]


Classic Intestinal Symptoms

  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain, bloating, discomfort
  • Blockages in the intestines
  • Ulcers and sores in the intestine lining or stomach

Symptoms From Malabsorption

  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue/exhaustion
  • Unexplained iron deficiency (anemia)
  • Joint pain and bone pain
  • Arthritis, osteoporosis, osteopenia (bone loss)
  • Fatty liver
  • Hair loss
  • Appetite loss

Neurological Symptoms

  • Anxiety or depression
  • Numbness/tingling/pain in the hands and feet
  • Migraines and frequent headaches
  • Seizures

Reproductive Symptoms

  • Missed periods
  • Early menopause
  • Impotence
  • Unexplained infertility and/or miscarriages

Miscellaneous Symptoms

  • Skin rashes
  • Itching
  • Canker sores in the mouth
  • Dental enamel defects8

Celiac Disease Can Also Be Silent And Symptomless

Some people suffering from celiac show no symptoms at all even as their intestines are being damaged by the disease. A landmark study on celiac disease revealed that that 41% of adults diagnosed with celiac during the study as well as 60% of children did not demonstrate any of the symptoms typically associated with celiac.9 This explains why celiac disease is notorious for going undiagnosed. In fact, of the roughly 3 million Americans who have celiac, 83% remain undiagnosed.10 A dicey situation indeed. If celiac disease goes undetected and untreated, it can eventually lead to other autoimmune disorders, neurological diseases, infertility, osteoporosis, and sometimes even cancer.11 Just to give you an idea, about 6% of all people in the US diagnosed with diabetes and 12% of those with Down’s syndrome also have celiac disease.12

Symptoms Of Celiac Differ Based On Individual Risk Factors

Researchers and doctors aren’t completely sure why symptoms of celiac vary so widely from person to person. However, some factors have been identified to explain the inconsistency of symptoms or the complete lack thereof. Symptoms of celiac can vary based on:

  • Your age
  • How long you were breastfed in infancy – some studies show that the longer one is breastfed, the later symptoms of celiac manifest themselves
  • How old you were when you started eating foods with gluten
  • How much gluten you consume
  • How much damage has been caused to your intestine due to celiac13

The onset and number of symptoms of celiac can vary too. Most people experience more than one symptom, some during childhood itself, while some others show no symptoms at all. Occasionally, health incidents such as surgery, viral infections, pregnancy and childbirth, bacterial gastroenteritis, and severe stress can trigger celiac disease symptoms.14