Celiac disease is a digestive disorder in which gluten – a protein found in wheat – damages the lining of the small intestine, which is the same part of the gut that absorbs nutrients from food. According to the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation, it is believed that 333,000 Canadians (approximately 1% of the population) are affected by celiac disease, but only about 110,000 have actually been diagnosed.
Iron deficiency and anemia are common in those with celiac disease. The reason for this is the damage done to the small intestine that can interfere with the absorption of iron. Unfortunately, eating improperly for the condition is also often to blame.
Symptoms of celiac disease vary from person to person. Where some people may experience fluctuations in symptoms, others may experience very mild symptoms, however, damage to the small intestine is still occurring. Due to the general nature of symptoms related to celiac disease, it can often be confused for other conditions, which likely lends itself to the low rate of diagnosis (1 in 3) and high rate of initial misdiagnosis (30% in children).
The onset of symptoms in children may begin shortly after the dietary introduction of cereal (generally after 6 months of age). Children will typically experience growth problems (failure to gain weight as expected or unexpected weight loss), chronic diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain/bloating, and fatigue. Although symptoms can occur at any age, adults typically experience symptoms between the 2nd – 4th decades of their lives. While adults do not typically experience gastrointestinal symptoms related to celiac disease, they commonly experience iron deficiency, mouth sores, fatigue, and bone or joint pain.
Iron deficiency can cause several different symptoms that vary depending on how low your iron level is and how depleted your iron stores are. At least knowing what the most common symptoms of iron deficiency are can help you distinguish between a normal “off” day or a problem with your iron.
If you are found to have low iron levels, your doctor may also recommend taking an oral iron supplement and eating more iron-rich (and gluten-free) foods to help prevent or treat the iron deficiency. As with many other conditions, the longer a person with celiac disease goes untreated, the greater the chance of developing other complications.