Definition and Facts

Celiac disease is a digestive disorder that damages the small intestine. People with celiac disease cannot eat gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. The disease can cause long-term digestive problems and keep you from getting nutrients you need.

Symptoms and Causes

If you have celiac disease, you may experience digestive symptoms or symptoms in other parts of your body. Digestive symptoms are more common in children than adults. Some people with celiac disease have no symptoms.

The presenting symptoms may range from diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, malnutrition, or failure to thrive, to chronic fatigue, joint pain, anemia, osteoporosis, or migraines. The prevalence of celiac disease has increased over the past 50 years and the rate of diagnosis has risen over the past two decades.

Not everybody with intestinal damage from celiac disease will have symptoms. And most people with symptoms that have celiac disease do not know it.

Most not diagnosed

Celiac disease affects some two million Americans, of whom around 83% are not diagnosed, and 3.5 million Europeans. This makes celiac disease one of the most common food-related, lifelong disorders worldwide.


A gluten-free diet is central to the management of celiac disease and has historically been the only treatment, although several potential therapies are now under development, see for example Dr. Gottlieb’s paper below.

Non-celiac wheat or gluten sensitivity

While there are reliable blood tests for traditional celiac disease your primary care physician can order, the diagnosis of non-celiac gluten sensitivity is difficult.  In fact, the very existence of such a disease is heavily debated. Unfortunately, many patients restrict their diet unnecessarily and avoid many delicious foods sometimes for no good reasons, and a gastroenterologist who understands celiac disease and gluten sensitivity may be able to help patients find the true cause of their ailments.


Gottlieb, Klaus, et al. Development of drugs for celiac disease: review of endpoints for Phase 2 and 3 trials.” Gastroenterology Report 3.2 (2015): 91-102.

More Information at Medlineplus or