If you’ve been enjoying bread and pasta for years and suddenly begin experiencing discomfort related to these foods, you might be wondering why. After having tested negative for celiac disease at a young age, you might find yourself asking, “Can you get celiac disease later in life?” In this article, we will explore the answer to that question and learn more about the causes and treatment for this autoimmune condition

causes for celiac disease

What is Celiac Disease?

Put simply, celiac disease is a hereditary autoimmune disorder triggered by gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Celiac disease impacts an estimated three million Americans today, with 1 in 100 people having the condition. 

The nature of this disease causes the body to view gluten as a threat. This overstimulates the immune system, and our bodies try to defend themselves from the perceived intruder. Over time, this unnecessary and overpowered immune response can cause damage to the portion of the small intestine that helps us absorb nutrition, as well as cause an array of unpleasant symptoms.  

What Causes Celiac Disease?

As mentioned above, celiac disease is a hereditary disorder. This means that it can be passed down from generation to generation through our genetic makeup. Those who have been diagnosed with celiac disease will present one of two specific genes in their DNA; however, not everyone with these genes present will develop the disease. 

Can You Get Celiac Disease Later in Life?

The answer is yes, you can develop celiac disease suddenly at any age. It is important to note that individuals who develop celiac disease were born with a genetic predisposition to the condition. Most people are diagnosed as adults, and there has been an increase in the number of elderly patients who develop symptoms of the disease despite never experiencing symptoms before. 

man and daughter cooking healthy meals with symptoms of celiac disease in Houston, TX

What Might Have Brought On This Change?

The exact reason for the sudden onset of celiac disease is not yet known. People who develop celiac disease later in life can have eaten gluten for many years without having a negative reaction. Studies suggest that a shift could be caused by the body reaching its breaking point after a lifetime of eating gluten. Stress and other environmental conditions may also be a part of the change. 

Researchers suggest that a possible cause for the sudden onset of celiac disease could be a change in intestinal bacteria. Changes in our intestinal bacteria can be caused by a triggering event like surgery, pregnancy, or an infection. After these events, the makeup of the gut biome can change, causing the dormant genes that fuel celiac disease to come into play. 

What Are the Early Warning Signs of Celiac Disease?

Symptoms of celiac disease can present themselves differently across age and sex. Children frequently experience the gastrointestinal-related symptoms of celiac disease, while adults will also experience symptoms unrelated to digestion. 

Some of the most common symptoms of celiac disease include, but are not limited to, the following: 

  • Abdominal Pain
  • Stomach Cramps
  • Constipation
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Malnutrition and Weight Loss
  • Pain in the Bones and Joints
  • Anemia
  • Osteoporosis
  • Fatigue
  • Numbness and Tingling in Extremities
  • Itchy Rash 
  • Depression and Anxiety
  • Migraines
  • Seizures
  • Oral Sores

Women suffering from celiac disease can experience: 

  • Missed Periods
  • Infertility
  • Recurrent Miscarriages

And in the elderly: 

  • Cognitive Impairment
grains and bread products in Houston, TX

Diagnosis and Treatment of Celiac Disease

If you notice symptoms of celiac disease, approach your doctor for help. Patients can expect a twofold diagnostic procedure involving a blood test and an endoscopy. Blood samples will be checked for high levels of a specific antibody to detect the presence of celiac disease. Next, the doctor will take a small tissue sample from your small intestine to check for any damage. If the results of the blood test and endoscopy are conclusive, you will most likely be diagnosed with celiac disease

Currently, the only effective treatment for celiac disease is to begin eating a gluten-free diet. This means adapting your diet to strictly gluten-free foods and doing your best to avoid gluten ingestion at all times. 

Types of foods that contain gluten and that should be avoided include food containing grains like wheat, wheat derivatives, rye, barley, and triticale. Foods that often contain some type of grain include various types of bread, pastas, cakes, pastries, cereals, gravies, beers, and more. Your doctor may recommend speaking with a nutritionist in order to better understand what living a gluten-free lifestyle will mean.  

The good news is that, after switching to a gluten-free diet, people with celiac disease often notice improvements in their symptoms in days to weeks. Over time, the small intestine will begin to heal and will not incur any further damage as long as patients continue to avoid gluten-rich foods. 

Should Older People Be Tested for Celiac Disease Frequently?

Because symptoms of celiac disease can be so uncomfortable, any individuals who believe they might be suffering from the condition should seek help. However, elderly patients in particular tend to be more susceptible to autoimmune diseases, meaning that the appearance of celiac disease could be more likely in those genetically predisposed to the condition. Bringing these concerns to your doctor is the only way to eliminate other possible causes of chronic symptoms, diagnose the presence of celiac disease, and begin treatment. 

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In conclusion, celiac disease is a hereditary autoimmune disease that expresses itself as an intolerance to gluten. This disease can appear suddenly at any age in individuals who are genetically predisposed for the disorder. 

Though you may have previously been able to tolerate gluten, symptoms of celiac disease can appear at any time. Bring your concerns to the medical professionals you trust to get a diagnosis and begin the lifestyle changes that can help alleviate your symptoms.