6 Early Signs You Have Celiac Disease, According To Experts

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One of the most widespread health problems in the U.S. are autoimmune disorders, which the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA) estimated affects close to 50 million Americans. To make matters complicated, there are over 100 types of autoimmune disorders that someone can be diagnosed with that all affect different areas of the body, and, that are all accompanied by unique symptoms. Among those, one of the most common kinds of autoimmune diseases is celiac disease, which the Celiac Disease Foundation reported affects at least one percent of people in the U.S.

Celiac disease is triggered by ingesting gluten food products — such as wheat, barley, and rye — and the disorder is so much more than simply having a slight sensitivity or upset stomach. According to Healthline, people with celiac disease can experience painful digestive issues, bloating, nausea, depression, and even iron-deficiency anemia. What's more, The Mayo Clinic reported in 2012 that if celiac disease goes undetected, or is left untreated, "a range of problems may develop as a result of the body's reaction to gluten — from skin rashes and lactose intolerance to infertility, bone weakness, and nerve damage."

The progression and onset of celiac disease can look different for everyone, making it sometimes a difficult illness to diagnose. However, according to medical experts, these six early warning signs of celiac disease are important to look out for if you suspect you may have this autoimmune disorder.

1Inability To Absorb Nutrients

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Dr. Steven Gundry MD, an expert in heart surgery and author of The Plant Paradox, tells Bustle that an inability to absorb nutrients can lead to "failure to gain weight or height," and that will be one of the early signs that someone may be struggling with celiac disease. Again, malabsorption of vitamins and digestive tract damage spurred by celiac disease are possible causes. Similarly, "Celiac disease can significantly reduce vitamin D absorption, leading to premature osteoporosis (bone thinning), and risk of bony fractures," Dr. Colm J. O'Loughlin, a physician with the University of North Carolina (UNC) Health Care, who specializes in Gastroenterology and Hepatology, explains.

2Chronic Digestive Issues

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Dr. Gundry explains that constant "diarrhea and/or constipation," is one of the first and foremost symptoms you'll begin to notice if you may have celiac disease. If you are unsure if gluten is the cause of your digestive discomfort, try downloading an app or keeping a food diary to get a better grip on what is triggering your diarrhea or constipation.

3Abnormal Bowel Movements

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Similarly to general digestive issues, your bowel movements — the shape, smell, and consistency — can reveal a lot about your health and any potential health problems. According to Dr. O’Laughlin, "bowel movements that are oily and odorous" could be a sign that of celiac disease.

4Brain Fog And Headaches

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Dr. Gundry says another warning sign you may have this autoimmune disorder is chronic brain fog. In short, brain fog is a term used to describe the cognitive fatigue and impairment many people with chronic illnesses regularly experience. Dr. O’Laughlin says, "Adults with celiac disease may suffer neurologic symptoms such as headaches, paresthesia, and lack of mental 'sharpness.'" Fortunately, studies have shown brain fog improves when people with celiac disease begin a gluten-free diet.

5Abdominal Pain And Bloating

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Dr. O’Laughlin says another indicator you could have celiac disease are the classic symptoms associated with this autoimmune disorder: chronic abdominal pain and bloating. Again, since these are such widespread issues, keeping a food journal could help you determine if food products containing gluten trigger it.

6Balance Issues & Other Symptoms Of Parkinson's Disease

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"Gluten causes tight junctions between the individual cells that line our gut to break apart, releasing gluten and bacterial particles into our body where they are attacked by our immune system — causing serious autoimmune and nervous system diseases," explains Dr. Gundry. Because of this, he says people with celiac disease can present with "Parkinson’s-like symptoms" — including cognitive decline, balance and mobility problems, and nerve issues. In fact, a 2014 case study found that switching to a gluten-free diet drastically improved Parkinson's-like symptoms in someone who had celiac disease.

Overall, Dr. Gundry explains, "Celiac is curable by removing gluten and gluten mimics from the diet. [...] Simple blood tests can detect when Celiac disease is in remission, and can be used to guide people’s food selection choices."

It may be grueling at times to pinpoint symptoms of celiac disease, especially because the disease presents so uniquely in each and every individual. Yet, being aware of the early signs of this autoimmune disorder, and seeking the help of a physician to manage it, is crucial to ensuring you don't experience irreversible health issues down the road.