Celiac Disease | Frequently Asked Questions

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Contact the Celiac Disease Program

  • 617-355-6058
  • International: +1-617-355-6058

What complications are associated with celiac disease?

Sometimes, people with celiac disease have problems absorbing calcium, iron, folate and other vitamins and minerals. This can lead to iron deficiency anemia and/or low bone density. People with celiac disease may also have a decreased response to the hepatitis-B vaccine. While major complications are rare in children, if you suspect your child may have celiac disease, it’s important to get him or her checked out. If left untreated, the damage to the intestines may increase the risk of developing some cancers and/or autoimmune diseases.

What conditions are associated with celiac disease?

Conditions associated with celiac disease include autoimmune diseases (e.g., Type 1 diabetes, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism), genetic disorders (e.g., Down syndrome, Turner syndrome, Williams syndrome).

Should other members of my family be tested for celiac disease?

Yes, the parents and siblings of a child with celiac disease should be tested, regardless of whether they’re showing any symptoms, typical or atypical. Infants and small children should not be tested until they reach the age of 2 or 3, since gluten exposure needs to trigger celiac disease. Talk with your doctor about what makes the most sense for your family.

Can celiac disease be prevented?

This is an area of ongoing research. There has been some evidence that introducing gluten while breastfeeding (and not before 4 months of age) may be helpful, and a rotavirus vaccine may help to prevent an infection that might trigger celiac disease.

Is celiac disease life-threatening?

No, because it can be completely managed by diet.

Is celiac disease a food allergy?

While both celiac disease and food allergies refer to the body’s intolerance for certain substances, there are some important differences between celiac disease and food allergies: 

  • Food allergies are the result of a different kind of immune process. 
  • Children may outgrow certain food allergies beginning in infancy, while celiac disease is a life-long condition. 
  • In contrast to celiac disease, exposure to certain foods in patients with food allergy may cause breathing problems or other sudden life-threatening reactions.

What will my child be able to eat?

You may be surprised by the variety of foods that your child can eat — and that’s what our registered dietitians will help you to focus on. A healthy gluten-free diet includes a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, meats, milk and milk products. There are also breads, crackers, pasta and desserts that are made from the allowed grains.

When will my child start to feel better?

This varies for each child. Some children feel completely better after a few days on the gluten-free diet, and for others, it takes a bit longer. There may still be days when your child doesn’t feel well, and that’s normal. But if it persists, let your doctor know.

Should my child restrict physical activities?

Generally speaking, no. As long as your child is feeling well enough to participate, physical activity is encouraged. In addition to the many other benefits of exercise, it can also help maintain bone density, which can be very helpful for children with celiac disease.

Is any amount of gluten safe for my child?

Unfortunately, gluten is very toxic to people who have celiac disease. As little as 50 mg per day of gluten can cause damage — that’s 1/100th of a piece of bread. That said, kids can’t live in a bubble, and there will be times when some gluten gets in.

Could my child be exposed to gluten outside of food?

Yes. Gluten may also be found in: 

  • prescription or over-the-counter medications
  • sunscreen
  • soap 
  • shampoo and conditioner 
  • lipstick, lip gloss and lip balms 
  • Play-Doh 
  • stamp and envelope glue, the backs of stickers 
  • vitamin, herbal and mineral preparations 

Gluten-free versions of all of these things are available, and you can even find instructions for how to make gluten-free Play-Doh online.

Is the damage to my child’s intestine reversible?

Yes, the damage will heal, and your child’s intestine will look perfectly normal, so long as gluten is avoided.

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