Celiac disease: How to detect the digestive disorder in young children?

Celiac disease is a disorder of the digestive system in which the body reacts adversely to gluten. Children may get affected at young age.
heimlich maneuver
Heimlich Maneuver will dislodge the food stuck in throat! Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Dr Suflla Saxena Published: 22 May 2022, 15:03 pm IST
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Food is the source of replenishment for all of us and it forms an integral part of human civilization. However, what happens when one is unable to digest the food they eat? Or worse enough their body rejects the very grain, which is staple to the diet of the region, which means suffer from celiac disease?

What is celiac disease?

Celiac disease is a disorder of the digestive system in which the body reacts adversely to gluten. Gluten is a protein, found mostly in staple grains like wheat, barley, and rye. The adverse reaction to this protein in the body leads to malabsorption of nutrients, and in severe cases, may lead to intestinal damage.
Celiac disease is a serious condition which can cause major repercussions on overall health and well-being of a person, if left untreated. Hence, timely intervention is a must. More so in children, as symptoms may get neglected at a younger age.

For the unversed, it was first identified as a disorder in the early 1900s, with children showing diarrhea and poor growth as symptoms, which eased with exclusion of glutinous food from the diet. Over the years, with changes in dietary patterns and lifestyle changes, the symptoms have evolved into evasive patterns, which are easy to misinterpret.

celiac disease
It’s a digestive disorder that can damage your health. Image courtesy: Shutterstock


The symptoms of can range from mild to severe, and they can change over time with lifestyle, dietary changes and hormonal variations. While in the past diarrhoea and poor growth were considered the markers of celiac disease, with advances in medical research, the understanding of the disease, and its symptoms, has also improved. Since sedentary lifestyle has inset the habit of unhealthy eating, celiac disease may often go undiagnosed for a long period of time, and only get diagnosed when severe nutrient deficiency sets in.

Also, read: The ultimate guide on everything you need to know about celiac disease

Celiac disease in children

First signs may show up in children as early as 1 year of age, as most children are introduced to solid foods after completing 6 months of age. Celiac disease shares symptoms with various other conditions and hence, requires prior medical experience and skill to correctly diagnose the disorder in time.

A pediatric gastroenterologist can diagnose it by ordering diagnostic tests such as blood tests, genetic tests, and or biopsies. In case the preliminary tests indicate celiac disease, the doctors then move towards endoscopy and biopsy to confirm the findings with accuracy and chart the course of treatment, based on the findings of the individual case.

Paediatric endoscopy is a safe procedure and can be performed on young children under supervision of a paediatric gastroenterologist.

Common symptoms to watch out for in children are:

1. Recurrent abdominal pain
2. Prolonged bloating triggered by glutinous food
3. Chronic constipation
4. Chronic diarrhoea (especially when they are not eating outside food)
5. Vomiting after consumption of glutinous food
6. Poor growth

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Meanwhile, often the disease may not give rise to any significantly noticeable symptoms until much later in life. Anaemia and vitamin D are strongly linked to this condition, owing to malabsorption.

Whole grains gluten
Both wheat and rye have gluten! Image courtesy: Shutterstock

If celiac disease doesn’t manifest the tell-tale digestive symptoms in children, the other symptoms may include:

1. Unintended weight loss
2. Unexplained fatigue
3. Irritability and aggressive behaviour
4. Poor performance at school
5. Obesity
6. Mouth sores
7. Rashes

How is gluten intolerance different?

One might feel sick after eating foods that contain gluten, and a feeling of fatigue, nausea or bloating may occur. This is a sign of gluten intolerance or non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS).

While gluten sensitivity may cause symptoms very similar to celiac disease, the two should not be confused with one another. Gluten intolerance or sensitivity does not show up in a test for celiac disease. An experienced healthcare provider may prescribe specialized blood tests to diagnose the condition. Another way to check for gluten intolerance is that of the gluten free diet week or the gluten challenge.

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About the Author

Dr Suflla Saxena, Sr. Consultant Paediatric Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist, HCMCT Manipal Hospital, Dwarka ...Read More

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