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 Celiac Disease in Children

A child with celiac disease has a negative reaction to gluten, a protein found in some grains, including wheat, rye, barley and triticale. Eating foods containing or contaminated by gluten causes the small intestine to become swollen, damaging the villi (finger-like projections that assist the body in absorbing nutrients).

Celiac Disease Symptoms

The symptoms of celiac disease vary greatly, making it difficult to diagnose. In fact, it is possible to have the condition without showing any symptoms at all. Digestive symptoms are more commonly seen in kids than adults.

Typical symptoms for infants:

  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Swollen belly
  • Pain
  • Failure to thrive or weight loss

Typical symptoms for older children include one or a combination of:

  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Abdominal pain
  • Short stature
  • Delayed puberty
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Learning disability
  • Lack of muscle coordination

Less common symptoms include: iron-deficiency anemia, blistering skin rash, headache, numbness in extremities, fatigue and many more. Again, symptoms vary greatly and come in no specific order or combination. If you suspect that your child has celiac disease, schedule an appointment with your pediatrician.

Testing for Celiac Disease

Do not change your child’s diet before your appointment, as this could change the results of celiac disease tests. You may want to have your child tested for celiac disease if the condition runs in your family or if you observe the following symptoms in your child:

  • Digestive discomfort or diarrhea lasting more than two weeks
  • Pale appearance
  • Irritability
  • Failure to grow or the development of a potbelly
  • Foul-smelling, bulky stools

Doctors may screen for celiac disease using:

  • Blood tests

Doctors confirm the diagnosis of celiac disease using:

  • An endoscopy
  • ​A capsule endoscopy

Treating Celiac Disease

Once diagnosed with celiac disease, patients must learn to maintain a gluten-free diet for the rest of their lives. Failure to do so may result in malnutrition, decreased bone density due to calcium loss, miscarriages or infertility, lactose intolerance and certain types of cancer. If necessary, your pediatrician may also prescribe vitamin supplements, steroids or skin medication.

Gluten-free foods are becoming increasingly common, but if you are concerned about maintaining a gluten-free diet for your child, ask your pediatrician about meeting with a dietician to discuss menu options, foods to eat when dining out and what to look for when grocery shopping.​​​