Pediatric celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that attacks the small intestine when a child eats gluten.
Celiac disease is a serious and life-long condition that damages the small intestine and creates problems with the absorption of necessary nutrients and vitamins. The disease is difficult to diagnose and occurs when the body has a reaction to gluten (foods containing wheat, barley, rye or oats).
When a child with celiac disease eats something with gluten, the body has an abnormal immune system response and attacks/crushes the villi (finger-shaped tissues in the small intestines). The villi are responsible for absorbing vitamins, sugars and other nutrients from food during digestion. Our bodies can’t properly function without these nutrients, which can lead to anemia (not enough healthy red blood cells), growth delays in children and osteoporosis (weak bones).
Celiac disease can be diagnosed at any age, but most children will not be screened until the age of 3. This is because the test relies on an antibody that is not typically present until that age, and children must eat gluten for several months to create an autoimmune reaction.
The exact cause of celiac disease is unknown, but researchers believe it is a combination of genetics, environmental factors and gluten-rich foods. Other possible causes can include:
In addition to the causes noted above, a person is more likely to be diagnosed with celiac disease if they have the following:
The following gluten-rich foods should be avoided:
American Board of Pediatrics/Gastroenterology