Center for Celiac Disease

Frequently Asked Questions

What is celiac disease?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease which affects the small intestine in people who cannot properly digest a part of gluten called gliadin. Gliadin is found in foods containing wheat, rye, barley and oats.

When a person with celiac disease eats these foods, it can damage their small intestine and affect digestion and absorption — meaning they may not be getting the nutrients they need to grow and live well.

Celiac disease is not an allergy.

What are the symptoms of celiac disease?

The symptoms of celiac disease can vary depending on the child’s age. These are some general guidelines.


Children and adolescents

Additionally, some children with celiac disease also experience skin disorders which produce small itchy blisters on elbows, knees and feet.

What are the effects of celiac disease?

Patients with celiac disease are more likely to have problems relating to malabsorption, including osteoporosis, tooth enamel defects, central and peripheral nervous system disease, pancreatic disease, internal hemorrhaging, organ disorders (gallbladder, liver and spleen) and gynecological disorders. 

How is celiac disease diagnosed?

Blood tests can help diagnose and manage celiac disease. Some children may not have symptoms and are only identified with the disease through a screening blood test.

To confirm the diagnosis of celiac disease, an upper gastrointestinal endoscopy (EGD) will need to be performed. During this diagnostic test, a small tissue sample will be taken from the small bowel, and then tested. This is called a biopsy.

If the tissue looks inflamed and damaged when examined under a microscope, celiac disease is confirmed.

How is celiac disease treated?

Celiac disease is a life-long condition and requires long-term treatment. Elimination of gluten from the diet improves the symptoms. The lining of the small intestine heals after gluten is completely removed from the diet. This involves eliminating wheat, rye, oats and barley. Lactose restriction may be necessary for some people.

What happens if a child with celiac disease accidentally eats gluten?

The reaction differs between individuals, but can include:

Some children may have no visible reaction to the gluten ingestions, but it will continue to affect their long-term digestion and the health of their small intestine.

If your child accidently ingests gluten, encourage your child to use the bathroom as much as necessary.

How do you know if a food contains gluten?

Label reading is key! Please use this site to learn more about naturally gluten-free foods, gluten-free food additives and ingredients, gluten-free vitamins and supplements and more. When you make an appointment at the Center for Celiac Disease at CHOP, you will also be given more information about a gluten-free diet.

Aside from food, where else can gluten be found?

Gluten can be found in more than just food; it can also be found in medications and common items many people use every day. Below is a partial list of items that gluten can be found in:

Contact us

For more information or to make an appointment with the Center for Celiac Disease at CHOP, call 215-590-3076.

Reviewed by: Center for Celiac Disease team
Date: February 2013

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