Nearly one in every 100 people in the United States suffers from celiac disease symptoms. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder inflicting damage on the small intestine. It can lead to the inability to absorb essential nutrients and to rampant systemic inflammation. In some cases celiac disease can be life threatening. Particularly troubling are silent celiac disease symptoms, where gluten enteropathy is present but with none of the common symptoms.
Note: Silent celiac disease is not the same as latent celiac disease. With silent celiac disease, the condition is verified to be present, but identifiable symptoms don’t appear. It is also sometimes called asymptomatic celiac disease.
Detecting Silent Celiac Disease Symptoms
One of the confusing things about any gluten sensitivity is that it can be very difficult to detect by relying strictly on the symptoms that are exhibited. It is theorized that celiac disease is more common than originally thought. Celiac disease (also known as celiac sprue disease or coeliac disease) is currently considered a genetic disorder and is more likely to occur in individuals who have a family history of celiac disease or type 1 diabetes.
Unfortunately, for those with silent celiac disease (people sometimes referred to as silent celiacs) it is possible that they are diminishing their health and will only later begin to see consequences of eating gluten. A simple list of gluten intolerance symptoms could include over 250 different documented symptoms, many of which can be associated with dozens of other conditions or diseases. The result is that gluten intolerance statistics strongly suggest a majority of sufferers go undiagnosed.
Silent Celiac Disease Symptoms
People with silent celiac disease have the following characteristics:
- No noticeable symptoms of classic gluten intolerance: no diarrhea, constipation, fatigue, weight loss or any of the other more common symptoms
- Loss of bone density
- Joint pain
- Headaches and migraines
- In some cases, edema
- Subtle, early Gluten Ataxia
- Positive intestinal biopsy
- Positive blood test or genetic test
Please see gluten intolerance test for more information on accurate testing for this disorder.
While symptoms may not be present, it’s important to note that the ingestion of gluten is still causing an autoimmune reaction. Individuals with silent celiac disease symptoms may eventually develop more recognizable symptoms but by that time the disease may have been present for many years. Celiac disease symptoms in children may be present but not identified until much later.
Understanding how gluten intolerance and pregnancy can be related is important for couples trying to conceive, especially for couples who are having difficulties conceiving. In some cases of unexplained infertility celiac disease is a factor. Exploring the cause of infertility is one way people may discover they have silent celiac disease. For most of these couples adhering to a gluten free diet can help them conceive and have a healthy pregnancy.
Latent Celiac Disease
While some debate exists about the term, latent celiac disease can represent two different but similar phenomenons. The more common and widely accepted use for the term is used when a patient has a positive blood test for celiac disease but a negative intestinal biopsy. This means gluten antibodies are in the blood but there isn’t measurable damage to the small intestine.
When doctors can’t verify that damage is being done to the small intestine, they won’t advise a gluten-free diet or diagnose celiac disease, despite the presence of gluten antibodies in the blood. This is a bit controversial, to say the least.
The second use of the term latent celiac disease occurs when a patient who had previously experienced symptoms of celiac disease is no longer symptomatic, even if they are no longer on a strict gluten free diet.
Individuals with latent celiac disease may find that their symptoms reoccur later in life. For such individuals no longer exhibiting distinct symptoms, it is vital that they maintain a strict gluten-free diet to avoid the long-term and often insidious consequences of celiac sprue disease.
Some women will experience this version of latent celiac disease during pregnancy. This can occur because the immune system is suppressed in order to carry the baby to term. While the immune system is suppressed the symptoms may disappear. This doesn’t mean the disorder has disappeared. It’s still essential to follow a gluten-free diet during and after the pregnancy.
Latent celiac disease and silent celiac disease are believed to be more common among adults. See my celiac disease symptoms in adults article for more information on this.
Silent Celiac Disease Treatment
Fortunately, celiac disease can be treated successfully. The key to treatment is the strict adherence to a completely gluten free diet. Gluten can be found in specific cereal grains, namely wheat, rye and barley. Oats are also considered a gluten grain because they are processed alongside gluten containing grains. Oats by themselves do not actually contain gluten but should be considered a gluten grain unless specifically marked gluten-free.
Adopting a gluten free lifestyle can be challenging in a few ways. First, it can be difficult to determine which foods contain gluten and which are truly gluten-free foods. While wheat, rye and barley are easy to spot on a list of ingredients, there are other ingredients which are more challenging to identify as a gluten ingredient. A few examples of “hidden” gluten ingredients are: malt, fillers, flavorings, and hydrolyzed protein.
Second, most Americans consume a great deal of gluten containing foods. It can be an abrupt change to remove these foods from the diet. It takes a good deal of will power and planning to successfully switch to a gluten free diet. The benefits are significant however. After following a strict gluten free diet for several months, the damage to the intestines begins to reverse itself. With the autoimmune reaction no longer taking place, the intestines are able to heal themselves and symptoms disappear.
It’s unclear why some individuals show significant celiac disease symptoms and others do not. Some theorize that it is a matter of degree — that all individuals with celiac sprue disease will eventually be symptomatic once the disease has advanced far enough. If you have a history of celiac disease or type 1 diabetes in your family it may be worthwhile to be tested for coeliac disease in the off-chance that you are one of the many Americans suffering from silent celiac disease symptoms.
I hope this helps. Thank you for visiting and reading the Gluten Intolerance School.