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Information from Your Family Doctor

Celiac Disease: What You Should Know


Am Fam Physician. 2007 Dec 15;76(12):1809-1810.

  See related article on celiac disease.

What is celiac disease?

Celiac (SEE-lee-ack) disease is a problem that affects your intestines. If you have celiac disease, your body reacts to gluten, which is a protein in wheat, rye, and barley. Eating gluten irritates your small intestine and stops your body from absorbing vitamins and minerals. Celiac disease can cause malnutrition (when your body doesn't get enough nutrients), stomach problems, and tiredness. It affects adults and children, and it runs in families.

How can I tell if I have celiac disease?

Symptoms of celiac disease usually develop slowly. If you have the disease, you may have diarrhea and stomach pain. You may feel weak or lose weight. Your stools may be foul-smelling, grayish, or oily. Some people have an itchy rash. Children who have celiac disease may not grow properly.

How is celiac disease treated?

Celiac disease has no cure. Your body doesn't need gluten, and you can control the disease by taking gluten out of your diet. A dietitian (an expert in nutrition) can tell you how to follow a gluten-free diet, and many cookbooks have gluten-free recipes.

You should begin to feel better a few days after starting a gluten-free diet. Your small intestine should heal in three to six months, but you will need to stay on a gluten-free diet for the rest of your life.

If your vitamin levels are low, you may need to take supplements.

What foods contain gluten and what foods can I eat?

Most foods made from grains contain gluten. Avoid the following foods unless they're labeled as gluten-free or made with corn, rice, soy, or other gluten-free grain:

  • Breads, cereals, and pasta

  • Cookies and cakes

  • Gravies and sauces

Many basic foods are allowed in a gluten-free diet. These include:

  • Fresh meats, fish, and poultry (not breaded or marinated)

  • Most dairy products

  • Fruits and vegetables

  • Rice and potatoes

  • Gluten-free flours (e.g., rice, soy, corn, or potato flour)

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor

American Academy of Family Physicians

Web site:

American Gastroenterological Association

Web site:

Celiac Disease Foundation

Web site:

Celiac Sprue Association

Web site:

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

Web site:

North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition

Web site:

This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.


Copyright © 2007 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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