Ask a Pediatrician: What Are the Signs of Celiac Disease?

Dr. Jeremy Friedman, chief of pediatric medicine at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, answers your most pressing questions about your child's health

Photography by Kourtlyn Lott, via Flickr (CC)

Q: What are the signs my son might have celiac disease?

A: Celiac disease is also known as gluten-sensitive enteropathy, as the symptoms are caused by an abnormal response of the immune system to the gluten protein found in wheat, rye and barley. This results in damage to the lining of the small intestines. The signs can vary widely and range from mild to severe. The most common symptoms are diarrhea, poor appetite, a bloated or painful belly and weight loss or poor weight gain.

It is important to know that the symptoms will only start after exposure to gluten (so for example, after introducing baby cereals into your infant’s diet) usually somewhere between six and 24 months. Some older children may have constipation or diarrhea, oily bowel movements that are hard to flush and lots of gas. They may be shorter than their peers and have difficulty putting on weight. Some kids are at higher risk of developing celiac disease, including those with Down syndrome, diabetes, an immune deficiency, or if a first-degree relative has a similar response to gluten. If you are worried, there is a blood test to screen for celiac disease.

Looking for more? Be sure to read Dr. Friedman’s response to “Does my child need more sleep?”

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