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Health and Family Services Cabinet
October is National Celiac Awareness Month

Press Release Date:  Tuesday, October 03, 2006  
Contact Information:  Gwenda Bond or Beth Crace, (502) 564-6786  

The Kentucky Department for Public Health is joining health officials around the country this month to raise awareness about a potentially life-threatening autoimmune disorder during National Celiac Awareness Month.

The observance is intended to teach the public about celiac disease, a disorder that interferes with the absorption of nutrients from food.

“Celiac disease affects one out of every 133 people in the United States and about 5 to 15 percent of the children and siblings of a person with the disease. It’s important to educate yourself about the disease, particularly its symptoms, because it’s commonly misdiagnosed,” said William Hacker, M.D., acting undersecretary for health and public health commissioner at the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

Often referred to as celiac sprue or gluten sensitive enteropathy (GSE), celiac disease can have a very damaging impact on food digestion. When a person with the disorder ingests foods containing gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley, the small intestine is damaged. The gluten causes an immunological reaction that leads to the small intestine not effectively absorbing basic nutrients.

The cause of celiac disease is unknown. 

Due to this decreased ability to digest foods properly, celiac disease can lead to major health problems if left untreated, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports. Long-term complications include iron deficiency anemia, osteoporosis, vitamin K deficiency (which could lead to a risk of hemorrhaging), other vitamin and mineral deficiencies, central nervous system disorders, pancreatic insufficiency, intestinal lymphomas and other GI malignancies, and lactose intolerance.

According to the NIH, the symptoms of celiac disease may include abdominal cramping, gas or bloating, chronic diarrhea/constipation or both, fatty stools, anemia, infertility or weight changes. Additional symptoms may include osteoporosis, bone or joint pain, weakness or lack of energy, depression or skin problems.

Celiac disease is diagnosed through blood testing. Further testing to determine the amount of damage that has occurred to the small intestine may be necessary.

Treatment of celiac disease requires strict adherence to a gluten-free diet. This means not eating foods containing wheat, rye or barley. Pasta, cereals and many processed foods would need to be avoided. Instead, a person with celiac disease would need to choose foods made with potato, rice, soy, amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat or bean flours. Many stores carry gluten-free products. These products also are available through special order.

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Last Updated 10/3/2006