While going gluten-free may seem like a trend picking up speed over the last few years, there are myriad reasons behind people’s decisions to make this move. Among them, a diagnosis of Celiac disease. The autoimmune disease can wreak havoc, specifically on the digestive system, and lead to other long-term health effects if not treated. Unfortunately, Celiac disease is often hard to diagnose, especially in children. So how do you know if you should have your child screened for Celiac disease?
What Is Celiac?
Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disorder caused by an intolerance to gluten, the protein found in grains like wheat, rye and barley. Over three million Americans are affected by Celiac.
Symptoms in children typically include decreased appetite, bloated belly, diarrhea, constipation, vomiting or a failure to grow or gain weight.
Unfortunately, according to Beyond Celiac, “only 20-30% of kids with Celiac disease will have stomach problems,” making it difficult for parents to know whether to have their child tested. Adding to the confusion, the appearance of symptoms may vary. Some children will exhibit symptoms as soon as they’re exposed to gluten as infants, while others may not experience issues until they’re toddlers or pre-teens.
When Should Your Child Be Tested?
It’s not recommended that all children be tested for Celiac disease. Celiac is genetic and usually becomes active when exposed to a trigger, such as gluten.
If you or your partner have Celiac disease, there’s an increased likelihood your children will have it. If you have a genetic predisposition and your child is experiencing any of the symptoms, you may want to have your pediatrician test them.
Kids with other conditions, such as Down syndrome, Type 1 diabetes, Selective immunoglobulin A (IgA) deficiency, Turner syndrome, Williams syndrome and autoimmune thyroiditis, are at greater risk for Celiac disease.
If your child is experiencing one or more of the symptoms, it’s worth having a conversation with your pediatrician. The initial screening for Celiac involves a blood test.
If your child tests negative for Celiac, but is still experiencing symptoms, you may opt to have them tested for a gluten sensitivity, which could be causing similar symptoms that don’t damage the intestine as Celiac does.
The good news is, while there’s no cure for Celiac disease, the treatment is removing gluten from your child’s diet. A gluten-free diet will most likely alleviate symptoms and allow the intestine to begin repairing.
If you have a family history or your child is experiencing any of the symptoms of Celiac disease, speaking to your pediatrician is the first step to identifying this often hard-to-find disease.