According the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, around one in 141 Americans has celiac disease. Many of these individuals are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.
Be aware of the symptoms of celiac disease in children and learn how to adapt to a gluten-free diet, the only way to treat this disease.
“Symptoms can vary from kid to kid; they may have one symptom or 10 symptoms,” says Kristi King, national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. She explains that kids can experience symptoms such as chronic diarrhea, significant gas, bloating, increased irritability, fatigue, decreased appetite and failure to gain appropriate weight and height.
Gastroenterologist Dr. Stacey Weiland cautions parents that children with celiac disease can also have symptoms that don’t involve the GI tract, such as mouth ulcers, skin conditions and problems with the teeth. “Children with celiac disease have an increased prevalence of other autoimmune conditions including thyroid disease and diabetes, as well as seizures, anxiety, depression, peripheral neuropathy, cerebellar ataxia and migraines,” says Weiland, who says that kids with celiac disease may also have vitamin deficiencies.
Last year, Holly’s oldest daughter, Marie, was diagnosed with celiac disease. At 14, Marie had to begin a gluten-free diet, the only treatment for celiac. Because her mother and sister have celiac disease, Holly had some familiarity with a cooking and shopping for a gluten-free diet. Over the past year, middle schooler Marie has adapted to her gluten-free diet, and even uses a smartphone to look up foods when she’s dining out. Holly offers parents some tips:
If your child shows any symptoms of celiac disease, it’s worth discussing with your pediatrician. “The gold standard for diagnosis is an endoscopy with biopsies of the intestine. However, the doctor can order a transglutaminase (TTG) level, which, if elevated, may be a good indicator that celiac disease is a possibility to start with,” says King, who directs parents to GIKids, a website that provides support and information.
“Starting a gluten-free diet can be very overwhelming for the parent and the child,” says King. “The internet can be full of erroneous information, so you want to make sure the information you get and put into action in the household is appropriate for your child.” Both King and Weiland recommend that parents consult with a registered dietitian to make sure that kids on a gluten-free diet are getting balanced nutrition. “The diet must be very strict. Children cannot have gluten every once in a while,” says Weiland. “Just one exposure can cause an immediate return of symptoms that can take months to reverse again.”
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