What is celiac disease? The well-known, yet misunderstood, condition affects an estimated 1 in 133 Americans, many of them children. Here, experts from the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at review the common misconceptions, signs and symptoms, and management of the disorder.

Myth 1: Celiac disease is basically the same as non-celiac gluten sensitivity or a wheat allergy.

Fact 1: Although some symptoms may be similar, celiac disease is a chronic autoimmune disorder that occurs in patients with compatible genetics caused by ingestion of gluten-containing grains (wheat, rye and barley). There are two genes for celiac disease. These genes are called human leukocyte antigen (HLA) DQ2 and DQ8. Many people who have celiac disease have at least one of these genes. In very rare cases, a person will not have these genes but might develop celiac disease anyway.

Celiac disease can present with over 200 physiological and behavioral symptoms and impacts 1% of the world’s population.

Myth 2: Celiac disease mostly affects young children.

Fact 2: Celiac disease can develop at any age, and it affects children and adults in all parts of the world. Approximately 33% of the general population has the genetic predisposition for celiac disease. Yet, only about 1% will develop the condition. Due to the genetic link, patients who have a family history should get tested routinely. Individuals with celiac disease cannot outgrow the disease since it is a lifelong autoimmune disorder like diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

Myth 3: A gluten-free diet means avoiding wheat.

Fact 3: Celiac disease is triggered by eating foods containing gluten. The only available treatment is removal of gluten from the diet, so people who have been diagnosed must avoid foods with the following ingredients:

  • Wheat
  • Rye
  • Barley
  • Malt
  • Brewer’s yeast

Also, many processed foods may contain "hidden" gluten, such as soups, salad dressings, energy bars and other products.

Myth 4: Celiac disease only affects Caucasian populations or persons of European descent.

Fact 4: Historically, celiac disease has been shown to be more common among Caucasian patients. However, research shows that Black and other minority-group populations are under-represented in clinical trials and diagnostic testing. Celiac disease is present in all populations. Therefore, any patient presenting with symptoms that are suggestive of celiac disease should receive testing from their health providers.