Celiac disease cannot be cured. However, your symptoms will go away and the villi in the lining of the intestines will heal if you follow a lifelong gluten-free diet. Do not eat foods, beverages, and medications that contain wheat, barley, rye, and possibly oats.
You must read food and medication labels carefully to look for hidden sources of these grains and ingredients related to them. Because wheat and barley grains are common in the American diet, sticking with this diet is challenging. With education and planning, you will heal.
You should NOT begin the gluten-free diet before you are diagnosed. Starting the diet will affect testing for the disease.
The health care provider may prescribe vitamin and mineral supplements to correct nutritional deficiencies. Occasionally, corticosteroids (such as prednisone) may also be prescribed for short-term use or if you have sprue that does not respond to treatment. Following a well-balanced, gluten-free diet is generally the only treatment you need to stay well.
When you are diagnosed, get help from a registered dietitian who specializes in celiac disease and the gluten-free diet. A support group may also help you cope with the disease and diet.
For additional information and support, see the organizations listed in celiac disease resources.
Following a gluten-free diet heals the damage to the intestines and prevents further damage. This healing most often occurs within 3 – 6 months in children, but it may take 2 – 3 years in adults.
Rarely, long-term damage will be done to the lining of the intestines before the diagnosis is made.
Some problems caused by celiac disease may not improve, such as shorter-than-expected height and damage to the teeth.
You must carefully continue to follow the gluten-free diet. When untreated, the disease can cause life-threatening complications.
Delaying diagnosis or not following the diet puts you at risk for related conditions such as:
- Autoimmune disorders
- Bone disease (osteoporosis, kyphoscoliosis, fractures)
- Certain types of intestinal cancer
- Low blood count (anemia)
- Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
- Infertility or repeated miscarriage
- Liver disease
Calling Your Health Care Provider
Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of celiac disease.
Review Date : 1/20/2010
Reviewed By : David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.