Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

brand logo

Am Fam Physician. 2007;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

American Gastroenterological Association

Celiac Disease Foundation

Celiac Sprue Association

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition

Continue Reading

More in AFP

More in PubMed

Copyright © 2007 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP.  See permissions for copyright questions and/or permission requests.