May is Celiac Awareness Month and the Canadian Celiac Association (CCA) is urging people to #GoBeyondTheGut and to be alert to the “atypical” (non-classical) features of celiac disease. While most people associate celiac disease with diarrhea, gas and bloating after eating gluten, many Canadians are unaware of the atypical or less common warning symptoms and signs of the disease.
It is estimated that about 80 per cent of Canadians with celiac disease remain undiagnosed – and could be suffering from debilitating “mystery” symptoms. Research has shown that while one percent of the world’s population is suffering from celiac disease, the lack of awareness and testing is severely delaying diagnosis.
“Many people look to classic clinical features like diarrhea and bloating as a sign of gluten intolerance but do not realize that this disease, which is an autoimmune condition, can impact the whole body,” says Dr. Mohsin Rashid, a professor of Pediatrics, Gastroenterology & Nutrition at Dalhousie University.
The best-known symptoms or celiac disease are digestive in nature – chronic diarrhea, abdominal pain, and unintended weight loss. However, celiac disease is much more than a digestive problem. Some of the top atypical features are anemia, bone disease, elevated liver enzymes neurological problems like migraines, short stature and reproductive problems.
“Iron deficiency anemia is now one the most frequent presenting problems in adults with celiac disease,” notes Dr. Rashid. “It is important for patients and family doctors to check for celiac disease when there is anemia and iron levels are low.”
“Delays in diagnosis can have serious health implications,” says Irene Wiseman of the Kelowna Chapter of the Canadian Celiac Association. “In severe cases, there could be fractures due to weak bones and even cancer of the bowel.”
“We encourage those who believe they might have a condition related to gluten to NOT simply stop eating gluten. It is important to know the exact problem and to get screened for celiac disease with a blood test. Celiac disease is a serious autoimmune disorder that can impact one’s health in many ways. Speak with your doctor and get tested FIRST,” urges Wiseman.