Photos Courtesy of © Canadian Celiac Association
It is estimated that 85 percent of people with celiac disease do not even know they have it. Are you one of them? The average Canadian with the disease goes 10 to 12 years before being diagnosed. This means years of living with symptoms ranging from bloating, diarrhea, and abdominal pain to weight loss, joint pain, iron deficiency, painful skin rashes, headaches, and extreme fatigue.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition triggered by eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. If you have celiac disease, eating gluten activates your immune system against your body’s tissues and organs, destroying the small intestine lining.
Because the symptoms of celiac disease are so varied and can mimic other conditions, diagnosis is often delayed, says Dr. Don Duerksen, a gastroenterologist at St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg, MB. But undiagnosed celiac disease can affect the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, which can lead to anemia or weight loss and slow growth in children. The inability to absorb calcium and vitamin D can lead to increased bone fractures or osteoporosis. Untreated celiac disease can also contribute to infertility, neurological issues, dental problems, children failing to thrive, and a higher risk for certain forms of cancer.
“We want to make sure people understand it’s a serious disease that can have incredibly harmful effects if it goes undiagnosed,” says Melissa Secord, Executive Director of the Canadian Celiac Association. “If you think you’re having an adverse reaction to gluten, visit the Canadian Celiac Association to take our symptom checklist, talk to your doctor, and get tested.”
Secord says that if you have celiac, family members should also get tested. While about one in 100 Canadians have celiac disease, that number jumps to one in 10 if a close family member has the disease. Celiac disease can affect people of all ages and more commonly occurs in those with other autoimmune disorders, such as thyroid disease and Type 1 diabetes.
If celiac disease is suspected, your doctor can order a simple blood test. If the blood test is positive, diagnosis is made with a biopsy of the small intestine. Dr. Duerksen cautions that to make the diagnosis, you must be eating gluten.
“Some people might be experiencing symptoms and just go off gluten,” says Dr. Duerksen. That is not a good test to determine if you have celiac disease, as some people may feel better if they stop eating gluten. “They may have a gluten sensitivity that causes symptoms related to digestion. But they do not have the intestinal injury or the same complication risks as someone with celiac disease,” he says. “Before you try avoiding gluten, get tested.”
Once diagnosed, going gluten-free relieves symptoms and heals the small intestine. “We want people to be aware of the signs of celiac disease so it can lead to earlier diagnosis,” says Secord. “The Canadian Celiac Association can empower you or your family members with free resources, education, and peer support to help navigate the required diet and onto better health within weeks.”
Ontario has been the only province in Canada not to cover the blood screening test for celiac disease, despite the test being a standard clinical practice worldwide. The test costs Ontario patients anywhere from $60-$150 per test. For many families, this is unaffordable. In November, the Ontario Ministry of Health announced that it would cover the cost of the initial blood screen to help diagnose celiac disease at any approved community-based laboratory from November 1, 2021, to March 31, 2022.
Visit your healthcare provider and ask for a lab requisition for both the tTg-IgA and total IgA blood tests. Visit a local community lab to have your blood test done and then speak to your healthcare provider about your results.
For more information and to take the symptom checklist, please visit ItsNotPretend.ca
400,000 Canadians have celiac disease. Only 15 percent of them are diagnosed. Let’s change that. Donate today to support the cause at www.celiac.ca
The Canadian Celiac Association / L’Association canadienne de la maladie coeliaque, a volunteer-based federally registered charitable organization, empowers people who are adversely affected by gluten. It was founded in 1973 and continues to be a source of science-based information, fostering research and encouraging mutual support among the gluten-free community. The association serves people with celiac disease, dermatitis herpetiformis and gluten disorders through its affiliated chapters across Canada.