How does celiac disease affect children?

Dr. Michael J. Albertson, MD
Children with untreated celiac disease do not grow well and have short stature. They also can have various intestinal problems that may be misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome, chronic constipation or chronic diarrhea. Pediatricians are becoming more aware of celiac disease, and they're starting to treat it appropriately.

In children, celiac disease, an autoimmune condition that causes the body to reject gluten, causes stomach and gas pain, diarrhea and fatigue, and a more long-lasting effect -- stunted growth.

A study of more than 51,000 children found that celiac disease slowed the growth of 57% of the girls and 48% of the boys two years before they were actually diagnosed with the condition.

Infants with celiac disease may fail to gain weight and height as expected, a condition called failure to thrive. In older kids, the condition can cause diarrhea, abdominal pain and bloating, weight loss, fatigue, skin rashes or irritability.

Malabsorption of nutrients can cause failure to thrive, delayed growth, a short stature and delayed puberty. It also can cause enamel defects in the child's permanent teeth.

Children undiagnosed with celiac not only are needlessly suffering diarrhea, constipation and pain, they are losing precious time in stages of their development when the consumption of proper nutrients is so important.

If a child starts to fall behind, the doctor may advise a blood test for celiac disease. The order might come more quickly for kids with symptoms, such as nausea and abdominal pain. Those with type 1 diabetes, thyroid disease or a family history of celiac disease also might benefit from a test.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.