Saturday, September 15, 2012

Crohn's Disease and Celiac: Someone In Your Family May Have it Now


Two chronic digestive diseases, Crohn’s disease and celiac disease, have been moving to the forefront of public awareness with increase diagnoses in both adults and children. Largely unknown to the general public until recent years, both conditions are unfortunately being diagnosed today with increasingly higher frequency. Both can result in similar symptoms, but the mechanisms and treatments of the illnesses are quite different.

Similar But Different

According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, Crohn’s disease causes inflammation and irritation of the digestive tract. The inflammation can result in diarrhea and abdominal pain. It can also result in scarring, which over time can narrow the passage through the digestive tract and cause pain as food moves through.

Celiac disease can also cause digestive problems such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation. It, too, arises from damage to part of the digestive tract. However, the damage here is quite different. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the lining of the small intestine in the presence of gluten, the protein found in wheat. As the lining erodes, it loses its ability to absorb needed nutrients into the bloodstream. Individuals with uncontrolled celiac disease may experience not only digestive symptoms, but also symptoms of malnutrition such as weight loss, fatigue, depression, and miscarriage.

Testing and Diagnosis for Crohn’s and Celiac Diseases

Patients suffering from one of these illnesses may initially seek help for di-gestive problems. As these symptoms overlap with symptoms of many other illnesses, it may take some time before their physicians can arrive at a solid diagnosis. Sometimes testing for the right disease is a matter of trial and error.

Celiac disease can initially be detected through a blood test. If the results are positive, the next step is to give the patient an upper endoscopy in which a biopsy of the small intestine is performed and pictures are taken. This is considered the gold standard for celiac disease diagnosis.

Crohn’s disease can be harder to decipher. Early testing will likely include blood and stool tests for anemia and other conditions. Once these simple tests have ruled out infection and other possible causes for the symptoms, more invasive testing may be ordered. These tests can include flexible sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, CT scans, and X-rays.

Treatment for Crohn’s and Celiac Diseases

Because the intestinal damage in celiac disease occurs in the presence of gluten, the only known treatment for the condition is to follow a gluten-free diet. It can be difficult to avoid products made with wheat, which include most baked goods and pastas, but the good news is that intestines can and often do heal when wheat is removed from the diet permanently. One benefit of the rising number of celiac disease cases being diagnosed is that several companies have worked hard to put good-tasting gluten free products on the grocery store shelves. Living gluten-free can be challenging, but it is made more pleasant with high quality gluten-free foods.

Again, Crohn’s disease is more complicated. Treatment focuses on control-ling symptoms and inflammation. It can vary from patient to patient, and may include medication, surgery, or special diets. Unfortunately, there is no known cure for Crohn’s disease. Fortunately, the progression can be slowed and the symptoms can be controlled.

Living with Chronic Illness

Being diagnosed with celiac or Crohn’s disease (or any other chronic illness) can be difficult. However, an accurate diagnosis is the first step toward suc-cessful treatment. There may not be any known cures for these illnesses, but their symptoms can be eased. Individuals with either of these conditions can still live happy fulfilling lives. (Even Chuck E. Cheese makes a gluten--free pizza!) They can control their illnesses without letting their illnesses control them.

Sophie Paegley is a full-time writer for higher ed blogs and journals nation-wide. Several schools offer degrees in the health field, including University of Southern California and Berkeley Universi-ty.

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