What is Celiac Sprue?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Celiac sprue is another name for celiac disease. This condition results when people cannot digest or tolerate gluten or wheat in any form. In fact consumption of wheat products can significantly irritate the intestines. This results in a variety of symptoms that can progressively worsen. When ignored, celiac sprue places people at risk for intestinal cancers and usually causes increasing sickness.

Wheat contains gluten, which cannot be digested by people with celiac sprue.
Wheat contains gluten, which cannot be digested by people with celiac sprue.

The causes of celiac sprue are not always clear, but the condition does appear to occur more readily in people who have family members that are also affected. It’s a little puzzling though, because even with a genetic link, not all people have it, and some don’t develop it in childhood, but start to have symptoms later in life. There appears to be instances when it occurs after physical, surgical or even sometimes great emotional trauma.

Celiac sprue, or celiac disease, causes damage to the small intestine.
Celiac sprue, or celiac disease, causes damage to the small intestine.

People might suspect celiac sprue if they have ongoing symptoms that could include diarrhea that comes and goes, and bloating or discomfort in the stomach. Other symptoms might not at first be thought of as related to the intestines. Some people develop a rash, or they might have ongoing muscle or joint pain. Mood may change, and celiac sprue symptoms could include serious depression or anxiety. People may end up with anemia because the constant assault of gluten on the intestines could make it difficult to absorb needed nutrients. Over time, a chronic state of malnutrition might develop, which could include symptoms like depletion of bone, hair loss, and weight loss.

Dermatitis herpetiformis is a telltale sign of celiac sprue.
Dermatitis herpetiformis is a telltale sign of celiac sprue.

Doctors are unable to cure people of their intolerance to gluten, but eliminating gluten from the diet can halt progress of the disease. This can be challenging to do because there are so many products that contain it or that are processed on equipment that also processes some source of gluten. However, since there are many people with celiac sprue, there are also many recommended diets and tips to help those affected find plenty of variety.

People with celiac disease must avoid eating gluten.
People with celiac disease must avoid eating gluten.

Giving up wheat gluten doesn’t mean giving all types of flour, and many creative recipes exist that use alternate flours made from other grains unrelated to wheat. Additionally there is a growing variety of gluten free products available, especially in natural foods stores. These tend to be a bit more expensive than other products, but they can satisfy cravings for foods traditionally made with wheat. Many people who have celiac sprue will work with a dietitian or nutritionist to plan excellent meals that fully satisfy nutritional requirements and remain tasty.

Those suffering from celiac disease may fail to absorb nutrients due to the damage caused by gluten to the villi in the intestinal lining.
Those suffering from celiac disease may fail to absorb nutrients due to the damage caused by gluten to the villi in the intestinal lining.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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