What to Know About Celiac Disease in Children

By Koren Wetmore |

The signs might be subtle: You notice your child seems to always get stomachaches after eating toast or pasta. Maybe your daughter has recurring bouts of constipation, or your son is growing much slower than his classmates.

You start to suspect that your child has something worth asking your pediatrician about. That something just might be celiac disease.

Celiac disease is caused by an abnormal immune response to gluten—a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. It damages the lining of the small intestine and makes it hard to absorb nutrients. As a result, children with celiac disease may not get the nourishment they need to grow and thrive.

The condition requires lifelong care. If left untreated, it can lead to delayed growth and even thin bones and fractures.

Celiac disease affects 1 in 300 children in the United States. That number rises to 1 in 10 for children with a parent or sibling who has the disease.

“It’s important to ensure your child gets all the calories and nutrients they need. Celiac disease damages the lining of the intestine, so your child may not be able to absorb certain key nutrients, such as iron.”

Symptoms can appear in children as young as 6-9 months old, or whenever gluten-containing foods are introduced to a child’s diet.

Infants and toddlers may experience vomiting, irritability or poor growth, while school-age children tend to have stomachaches, constipation or diarrhea. Older kids and teens may experience chronic fatigue, headaches, joint pain, rashes and even mood disorders.

“Sometimes the patient’s symptoms are significant and you know there’s something wrong,” says Erin Feldman, a pediatric dietitian with the Cedars-Sinai Pediatric Digestive Diseases Clinic.

“Other times there are no symptoms, but a routine blood test reveals anemia, and the follow-up blood work shows the patient has celiac disease.”

Still, Erin warns, celiac disease may not be the cause of your child’s symptoms. Other culprits, such as a wheat allergy or gluten intolerance (a sensitivity to gluten that does not damage the intestines) might be to blame.

So, how can you tell if your child has celiac disease or something else?…

Published on Cedars-Sinai Blog