Celiac disease (also known as celiac sprue) is an autoimmune disorder in which the ingestion of gluten leads to damage of the small intestine. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley, which attacks the villi (small fingerlike projections that line the small intestine). When the villi are damaged, nutrients cannot be absorbed properly.
Celiac disease is genetic. Incidents are high among siblings, and women are affected twice as frequently as men.
Symptoms may include weight loss, anorexia (absence of appetite), abdominal distention, flatulence, diarrhea, abdominal pain and tenderness, intestinal bleeding, and muscle wasting (due to malnutrition related to loss of appetite). Celiac disease is difficult to diagnose as symptoms often mimic other digestive disorders. There is no known cure for celiac disease. Treatment usually consists of strict adherence to a gluten-free diet.