Table of Contents
The Anatomy of Celiac Disease
Many people voluntarily choose to follow a gluten-free diet, but for somebody with celiac disease it’s a must.
Recent figures suggest that at least three million Americans suffer from celiac sprue, or as it’s more commonly known, celiac disease. That’s enough people to fill 4,400 Boeing 747 airplanes or to fill the stadium of the Chicago White Sox over 55 times. (1)
Celiac, or coeliac as it is also known when used in medical terms, often refers to a gluten induced chronic disease of the digestive tract. In terms of anatomy, celiac is an adjective meaning of or relating to the abdomen or abdominal cavity. The word originates from the Latin coeliacus and the Greek koiliakos, from koilia meaning belly.
Although most people nowadays have heard of celiac disease, how much do we really know about the celiac anatomy? This article will also look in more detail at the celiac anatomy including the celiac trunk (or artery), celiac plexus and celiac ganglia.
What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is triggered by an intolerance to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley or rye. When somebody who is celiac consumes gluten their body fights back by attacking the small intestine. Villi inside the small intestines can become injured and the intestine will not correctly absorb the nutrients from food.
This process can eventually lead to malnourishment as well as loss of bone density and even some neurological diseases and types of cancer. The only known successful treatment for celiac disease is a lifelong commitment to a gluten-free diet.
Symptoms of celiac disease can often include:
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of bone density
- Headaches or migraines
- Bone or joint pain.
For younger children especially, in addition to the above, symptoms can include bloating, gas, diarrhea or constipation and weight loss.
Not everybody who has celiac disease has the same symptoms. Sometimes, somebody who has celiac disease will exhibit none of the symptoms. Doctors in the US estimate 97 percent of celiac disease sufferers don’t even know they have it. (1)
Undiagnosed and untreated, celiac disease can lead to many other autoimmune disorders or neurological conditions.
The longer it is left undiagnosed, there is an increased risk for iron deficiency, infertility or a miscarriage, or a gallbladder malfunction to name but a few. In more serious cases, epileptic seizures, dementia or even some types of cancer can be a result of late diagnosis.
What Causes Celiac Disease?
Although doctors have not been able to find the exact cause, celiac disease is a genetic disorder that runs in families. You have one in ten chance of developing celiac disease if you mom, dad, brother or sister have suffered from it. Celiac disease can often be triggered by stressful events like viral infections, surgery or a trauma.
Other diseases, including type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, down syndrome or Addison’s disease, can also increase your chances of a celiac disease diagnosis.
Doctors can use two blood test to test wether you may have celiac disease. A serology test looks to see if certain antibodies are present in your blood, while genetic testing looks for antigens that rule out celiac disease. If either test brings back a positive result, an endoscopy is usually required to see how much harm has been done to the small intestine.
What Treatment is Available?
There are no drugs available for treatment of celiac disease. The only way to live with the disease is to go on a strict gluten-free diet. If a doctor feels you are severely nutrient deficient they may have you take gluten-free vitamin and mineral supplements.
A gluten-free diet can mean staying away from bread, cakes and most other baked goods in addition to beer, pasta and most cereals. Many gluten-free alternative products are available including gluten-free wraps, flour and even beer which has no gluten.
To fully acknowledge the problems caused by celiac disease, you need a clear understanding of the digestive system, in particular the abdominal region, or rather the celiac zone.
What is the Celiac Trunk and What Does it do?
The celiac trunk is a major artery in the abdomen which supplies oxygenated blood to a part of the gastrointestinal tract called the foregut.
The gastrointestinal tract, running from the mouth to the rectum, enables the body to extract nutrients from the food we eat. Without these nutrients, the body becomes malnourished and this is when illnesses and diseases can take hold.
After rising from the abdominal aorta, the celiac trunk splits into three branches, the left gastric, splenic and common hectic arteries. Together these supply the stomach, spleen, liver, gallbladder, stomach, pancreas and duodenum with the oxygenated blood they need to function.
Chronic recurrent abdominal pain can result from rare cases of celiac artery compression syndrome. This can often be mistaken for many other illnesses including but not related to celiac disease.
Once diagnosed, surgical decompression of the artery is recommended for most patients using minimally invasive surgery.
How Does the Celiac Plexus Work?
The celiac plexus, or sometimes referred to as solar plexus, is a complex network of nerves found in the abdominal cavity. It is located near where the celiac trunk, renal arteries and mesenteric artery branch away from the aorta. Two large masses of nerves called celiac ganglia also hang at the top of the abdominal cavity.
Major organs in the abdomen are important for the correct functioning of the metabolism and general life functions. The celiac plexus monitors to check the organs are working properly and carries reports back to the brain.
A celiac plexus block, a local anesthetic, is often administered in cases of chronic abdominal pain or other illnesses including pancreatic cancer. By blocking the nerves from carrying messages from the organs you can hopefully reduce abdominal pain in most cases.
Celiac disease is not a new illness, an Ancient Greek physician Aretaeus wrote of a disease which affected both children and adults as early as the 2nd century AD. It wasn’t until the 1940s that the disease was officially recognized.
The growth of the gluten-free food market and celebrities coming out as having celiac disease have made us much more aware of its existence.
This is the “anatomy” section of our celiac guide series. Check out the other installments below:
- The Ultimate Guide to Celiac Disease
- Symptoms of Celiac Disease
- Testing for Celiac Disease
- Treatment for Celiac Disease
- Celiac Disease & Your Diet
- Awareness of Celiac Disease
- Celiac Disease & Weight Gain
- Celiac Disease & Alcohol
- Celiac Disease FAQ
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