Gluten-Free Resource Directory

Celiac Disease in Children – From Diagnosis to Diet

Belly-Ache

Diagnosis can be tricky!

Celiac Disease (CD) can lead to over 300 symptoms! That makes it difficult to diagnose, especially in young children who may be unable to describe their symptoms. What’s more, many times the typical gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms that come to mind when most of us think of CD (bloating, diarrhea or constipation, and abdominal pain) are absent in children with CD. Instead, CD in children may manifest in other ways such as:

  • Slowed or stunted growth
  • Anemia
  • Weakened tooth enamel

These symptoms result from the poor nutrient malabsorption caused by CD’s damage to the lining of the small intestine. Other related symptoms that may not initially be attributed to undiagnosed CD in children are:

  • Irritability
  • Moodiness
  • Inability to focus or concentrate

Testing

In children showing no symptoms of CD, health professionals do not encourage random testing; however, testing is recommended for children with a higher than normal risk for developing CD, regardless of outward symptoms.

Children with higher than normal risk of having or developing CD have:

  • A parent or sibling who tests positive for CD
  • Certain disorders such as Down Syndrome, Type 1 diabetes, IgA deficiency, Turner syndrome, Williams syndrome or thyroid issues.

Testing Tips!

Prior to testing for CD, remember to keep your child on a regular diet that includes gluten. This insures more accurate test results because the initial blood tests for CD measure antibody levels, which are typically high in those with CD if they are on a gluten-containing diet.

{Antibodies are the proteins that fight off foreign invaders in the body. For individuals with CD, gluten leads to an immune response that causes the body to produce antibodies to “self tissue” in the small intestine.}

What if blood tests are positive?

If initial antibody blood tests come back positive for CD, the diagnosis should be confirmed with a biopsy (tissue sample) of the small intestine lining. This is done via endoscopy, a procedure where a small flexible tube is entered into the digestive tract via the mouth. The tiny camera attached allows the doctor to see the small intestine lining. The doctor will look for signs of damage to the small finger-like projections (villi) lining the small intestine. These villi allows the body to absorb nutrients from the foods we eat. Individuals with CD are unable to properly absorb nutrients since the villi are damaged and flattened.

Prognosis

Fortunately, once a child with CD is diagnosed and adopts a gluten-free diet, the resilient villi heal and nutrients are readily absorbed through the gut; alleviating symptoms of CD over time. Children tend to experience a general improvement in one to two weeks after beginning a gluten-free diet, but the gut can take one to two years to heal completely.

Gluten-Free Diet

At first, the gluten-free diet can be overwhelming and challenging to parents.  With younger children, it is sometimes difficult to convey how serious the effects of gluten can be on their system. In older children, the fear of appearing different around peers can be troubling, not to mention the numerous pizza parties and gluten-filled foods they come in contact with via classroom events, school lunches, or at the friends’ homes.  To simplify mealtime, many parents adopt a gluten-free lifestyle for the entire family. This is one option that helps avoid the risk of cross-contamination for their child with CD, and with simple to prepare gluten-free recipes, this is not nearly as difficult as it seems at first. There are also many high quality gluten-free foods available to choose from on grocery store shelves, too! Resources like the Gluten-Free Resource Directory make it quick and easy to locate products to suit your family’s needs! Of course, a strict gluten-free household still does not solve the issue of keeping your child safe when he or she is away from home. A significant part of food allergy safety is education.

Remember to:

  • Talk to your child about gluten, what it is, and how it can be damaging to individuals with CD.

  • Focus on foods your child can eat instead on what they must give up. Children are resilient and tend to follow our lead. If that is a positive one, half the battle is won!

  • Find reliable resources for information, resources and gluten-free recipes that are kid-friendly and simple to prepare.

  • Don’t overlook all the nutritious naturally gluten-free foods available like lean proteins (plant or animal derived) and fresh fruist and vegetables.

  • For older children, get them involved in meal planning and preparation as a fun, family-oriented way to learn about all the foods those of us living gluten-free can enjoy.

  • Discuss cross-contamination with your child and help them understand a small amount of gluten can still negatively impact their health.

Keep the lines of communication open and the healthy gluten-free foods on the table and gluten-free living becomes easier with each day!

xo,

Gigi ;)

About Gigi Stewart

After more than 25 years of living with unexplained chronic pain and a frightening array of misdiagnoses ranging from lupus to leukemia, I took my health into my own hands by seeking real, fact-based answers to heal my body naturally. Through my academic research, scientific studies and my personal experiences, I gained a unique understanding of how properly managing diet directly impacts our overall health and wellness. It is my passion to share this information with you because I know many of you are facing health challenges similar to those I overcame through proper diet and nutrition. My goal is to support your journey to optimal health with real answers, advice and tips that work.

View all posts by Gigi Stewart →

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  • Dawn Robertson: The only tropical relief I have found is from Biofreeze. Every few hours I spray my itchy splotchy rash and I get a few hours of peace. Icy Hot or other products will menthol may work too. View Post
  • Peggy Schulz: Hello, I am trying to find a doctor or dermatologist in Oregon (preferably Medford area) that specializes in DH/Celiac. After going to 5 docs over a couple years, all think I have eczema and even athlete foot or food allergy, spent over $3000 out of pocket for allergy tests etc., I figured out what I have via google! Oh did I tell you I always told my doctors I have celiac. And I always said I have a feeling it an internal issue, not an allergy. And always told them the itch is not normal, it itches to the bone! Not one ever mentioned DH! Apparently I am getting cross contamination, so now staying home for every meal, not eating out, even at friends homes. I would sure like a doctor who 'get's it'! Thank you for this site! View Post
  • Peggy Schulz: Hello, I am trying to find a doctor or dermatologist in Oregon (preferably Medford area) that specializes in DH/Celiac. After going to 5 docs over a couple years, all think I have eczema and even athlete foot or food allergy, spent over $3000 out of pocket for allergy tests etc., I figured out what I have via google! Oh did I tell you I always told my doctors I have celiac. And I always said I have a feeling it an internal issue, not an allergy. And always told them the itch is not normal, it itches to the bone! Not one ever mentioned DH! Apparently I am getting cross contamination, so now staying home for every meal, not eating out, even at friends homes. I would sure like a doctor who 'get's it'! Thank you for this site! View Post