GI Doc Explains How to Help Kids Adapt to Celiac Disease

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GREENWICH, Conn.—Between birthday parties and school cafeterias, childhood can be difficult for children who have celiac disease, a digestive condition that interferes with absorption of nutrients from food.

The only treatment for celiac disease is a gluten-free diet, and it’s not easy. Gluten is a protein found in wheat and other grains. So forget about regular cereal, sandwiches, cookies, pasta, and so many of a child’s favorite foods. Gluten is also present in many added food stabilizers and preservatives and, through cross-contamination, may wind up in vitamins, medicines and other products.

“One problem with celiac disease in children is that it often goes undiagnosed," said Anthony Porto, MD, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Greenwich Hospital in Connecticut. Some children experience constipation or belly pain as a symptom, and it’s dismissed as a common childhood virus. Infants and young children with celiac disease may experience abdominal bloating, chronic diarrhea, vomiting and weight loss. Symptoms vary from child to child and may also include irritability and behavioral issues.

“Proper diagnosis is critical for children because malabsorption of nutrients in a child’s formative years can manifest itself in delayed growth, delayed puberty, damage to dental enamel and other problems that may last a lifetime," explained Porto.

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