The Celiac Disease

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OpenStax Microbiology

Celiac disease is largely a disease of the small intestine, although other organs may be affected. People in their 30s and 40s, and children are most commonly affected, but celiac disease can begin at any age. It results from a reaction to proteins, commonly called gluten, found mainly in wheat, barley, rye, and some other grains. The disease has several genetic causes (predispositions) and poorly understood environmental influences. On exposure to gluten, the body produces various autoantibodies and an inflammatory response. The inflammatory response in the small intestine leads to a reduction in the depth of the microvilli of the mucosa, which hinders absorption and can lead to weight loss and anemia. The disease is also characterized by diarrhea and abdominal pain, symptoms that are often misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome.

Diagnosis of celiac disease is accomplished from serological tests for the presence of primarily IgA antibodies to components of gluten, the transglutinaminase enzyme, and autoantibodies to endomysium, a connective tissue surrounding muscle fibers. Serological tests are typically followed up with endoscopy and biopsy of the duodenal mucosa. Serological screening surveys have found about 1% of individuals in the United Kingdom are positive even though they do not all display symptoms. This early recognition allows for more careful monitoring and prevention of severe disease.

Celiac disease is treated with complete removal of gluten-containing foods from the diet, which results in improved symptoms and reduced risk of complications. Other theoretical approaches include breeding grains that do not contain the immunologically reactive components or developing dietary supplements that contain enzymes that break down the protein components that cause the immune response.


Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: