What Are Some Red Flags That My Child Might Have Celiac Disease?

The short answer from a gastroenterologist
Small boy with upset stomach on couch with mother

Q: Can kids have celiac disease? What are the signs of celiac disease in children?

A: Most people diagnosed with celiac disease nowadays are adults, but children can and do get it.

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Celiac disease causes an autoimmune reaction in the body when someone ingests gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. As a result, their small intestine is damaged, and their body can’t properly absorb nutrients from food.

In children, one of the most common reasons to test for celiac disease is difficulty achieving the growth that is expected for their age.

Children may also experience celiac disease symptoms similar to those experienced by adults, including:

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  • Diarrhea.
  • Bloating.
  • Stomach pain.
  • Constipation.
  • Fatigue.
  • Skin rashes.

Of course, these can be symptoms of many different health problems, or they can be benign. So it’s important to work with a gastroenterologist to get a diagnosis.

For children with symptoms, the initial step is testing the blood for certain antibodies. If results of the test show a tissue transglutaminase (tTG) antibody level that is 10 times the upper limit of what’s considered normal, select children may be able to skip the final step of diagnosis, which is an endoscopy with biopsy.

The only treatment for celiac disease is to follow a gluten-free diet. A dietitian can help children and their families with this transition.

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Gastroenterologist and celiac disease specialist Alberto Rubio-Tapia, MD

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