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Celiac Disease

People with gluten enteropathy or celiac disease cannot tolerate gliadin, a protein constituent of gluten, which is found in many grains.


The symptoms of celiac disease may initially appear after a baby is first given cereal containing wheat, barley, rye, buckwheat, or millet. Affected children are irritable. They grow and gain weight poorly, and perhaps even lose weight. They often have chronic diarrhea, although some may be constipated. They may vomit or have pale or foul-smelling stools.

This food intolerance is increasingly common, affecting about 1 in 80 to 1 in 300 children, but it can be difficult to diagnose. Symptoms may appear well after infancy. It tends to run in families and is most common in those of European and Middle Eastern descent.


The only treatment for celiac disease is strict, lifelong avoidance of cereals, pasta, breads, and baked goods made with grains containing gluten. Also, children with this disease need to stay away from commercially produced foods such as canned soups and stews thickened with processed grains and cereals. Even small amounts of gluten can cause symptoms in your child.

Your pediatrician will provide dietary advice and refer you to a dietitian for nutritional guidance. Many grocery stores and bakeries now sell gluten-free products (from breads to pasta) that can be built into a healthy eating plan, and many of these products include the term gluten free on their packaging. Also, because celiac disease symptoms are often similar to those of other medical conditions, your doctor may recommend diagnostic tests, such as blood tests to look for high levels of particular antibodies (specialized proteins in the immune system) or a biopsy that takes a tissue sample from the small intestine through a thin tube (endoscope). Because celiac disease can be a serious disorder and is a lifelong condition, diagnostic confirmation is necessary. Because this condition tends to occur in families, the family members of a child with celiac disease may decide to be tested as well, especially if there are unexplained medical problems.

Last Updated
Nutrition: What Every Parent Needs to Know (Copyright © American Academy of Pediatrics 2011)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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