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Canadians asked to 'go beyond the gut'

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May is Celiac Awareness Month and the Canadian Celiac Association is urging people to #GoBeyondTheGut and be alert to the “atypical” (non-classical) features of celiac disease.

While most people associate celiac disease with diarrhea, gas, and bloating after eating gluten, many Canadians are unaware of the atypical or less common warning symptoms and signs of the disease.

It's estimated about 80 percent of Canadians with celiac disease remain undiagnosed—and could be suffering from debilitating “mystery” symptoms.

Research has shown that while one percent of the world's population is suffering from celiac disease, the lack of awareness and testing is severely delaying diagnosis.

“Many people look to classic clinical features like diarrhea and bloating as a sign of gluten intolerance but do not realize that this disease, which is an autoimmune condition, can impact the whole body,” said Dr. Mohsin Rashid, a professor of Pediatrics, Gastroenterology & Nutrition at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia.

The best-known symptoms of celiac disease are digestive in nature—chronic diarrhea, abdominal pain, and unintended weight loss.

However, celiac disease is much more than a digestive problem. Some of the top atypical features are anemia, bone disease, elevated liver enzymes, and neurological problems like migraines, short stature, and reproductive problems.

“Iron deficiency anemia is now one the most frequent presenting problems in adults with celiac disease,” noted Dr. Rashid.

“It is important for patients and family doctors to check for celiac disease when there is anemia and iron levels are low.”

“Delays in diagnosis can have serious health implications,” stressed Anne Wraggett, president of the Canadian Celiac Association.

"In severe cases, there could be fractures due to weak bones and even cancer of the bowel.

“We encourage those who believe they might have a condition related to gluten to not simply stop eating gluten,” Wraggett added.

"It is important to know the exact problem and to get screened for celiac disease with a blood test.

“Celiac disease is a serious autoimmune disorder that can impact one's health in many ways,” she noted.

“Speak with your doctor and get tested first.”

To learn more about the atypical signs of celiac disease, visit the CCA's website at www.celiac.ca.

The CCA also is hosting free educational webinars throughout the month of May, along with public outreach using the hashtag #GoBeyondTheGut.

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