How Long Does It Take to See Results After Celiac Disease Diagnosis?
Celiac disease is much more common than once believed, affecting roughly 1% of the American population. While the number of celiac diagnoses seems to have risen over the past decade or two, it remains unclear whether incidence of the disease is actually increasing or whether improved awareness has led to an increase in testing. Lack of training in medical education may also play a role.
Because celiac disease affects each person differently and has a lengthy list of over 200 known symptoms, it is notoriously difficult to diagnose. It is currently estimated that 80% of the celiac disease population remains undiagnosed. People often struggle with symptoms for years before receiving an accurate diagnosis and, for many, it only comes after one or more misdiagnoses.
If you’ve recently been diagnosed with celiac disease, you can breathe a sigh of relief. While celiac disease certainly isn’t the easiest thing to live with, a diagnosis means you can start taking steps to feel better. Read on to learn how long you can expect to wait before you start seeing results.
How is Celiac Disease Diagnosed?
Celiac disease is notoriously difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are highly varied, and many people don’t even present digestive issues. Damage to the lining of the small intestine, the primary characteristic of celiac disease, takes time to develop and cannot be outwardly diagnosed.
If your doctor suspects celiac disease, there are several tests that may be used for diagnosis.
Genetic testing for human leukocyte antigens can help rule out a celiac disease diagnosis while serology testing for elevated levels of certain antibodies can support one. If you test positive for these antibodies, you’ll likely need an endoscopy to take tissue samples from the small intestine to analyze for damage to the villi that would confirm a celiac disease diagnosis.
In order for these tests to be effective, you need to continue consuming gluten. Once you receive a celiac disease diagnosis, however, the only effective treatment is to follow a gluten free diet.
Should You Go Completely Gluten Free Immediately?
Being diagnosed with celiac disease comes as a shock for some. If you live the typical American lifestyle filled with fast food and takeout, you may find it difficult to completely change your diet at the drop of a hat. If you really want to get better, however, that’s what you’ll need to do.
In the diagnostic stage, you need to continue eating gluten for the test results to be accurate. Once you have your diagnosis, however, it’s time to make a change. But how quickly do you need to make it?
The gluten free diet has become something of a trend recently and many people find they feel better when they cut back on their gluten consumption. When it comes to celiac disease, however, simply cutting back won’t be enough. The longer you continue to consume gluten, the longer your symptoms will persist and the more damage your small intestine will sustain.
If you’re struggling with your diagnosis and you’re worried about making such a drastic change, gradually reducing your gluten intake is better than making no change at all. Just know that the sooner you remove gluten from your diet, the sooner you’ll feel better and the sooner you’ll start to heal.
How Long Does It Take the Body to Heal?
Celiac disease is much different from a food allergy or sensitivity. Only about one-third of patients experience digestive symptoms, and most who do are children or infants. Issues like fatigue, joint pain, and iron deficiency anemia are more common in adults.
The good news is you should experience relief from symptoms within a few days of removing gluten from your diet. The real question, however, is how long it takes your body to heal.
Most celiac disease patients experience some degree of relief from symptoms within a few days of completely removing gluten from their diet. When it comes to healing, however, estimates vary. Some evidence suggests the small intestine may heal completely within 3 to 6 months, though adults diagnosed at an older age could take up to 2 years to fully heal.
In 2010, the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota published a study after reviewing intestinal biopsy records for 241 adults. Four out of five experienced a “clinical response” to the gluten free diet, meaning their symptoms improved or disappeared entirely. The shocking finding of this study was that only one-third of participants showed fully recovered intestinal villi after two years and two-thirds after five years.
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic speculated that inadvertent gluten consumption could explain why some patients don’t recover fully. Genetics, age, and duration of gluten exposure may play a role as well.
What’s interesting is that adults in other countries seem to recover more quickly and fully than those in the United States. Continuous low-level gluten cross-contamination associated with the traditional American lifestyle could be to blame. All of this is to say that while you may not be able to completely eliminate all traces of gluten from your diet, the stricter you are the more likely you are to recover.
What to Expect After Going Gluten Free
If you’ve been diagnosed with celiac disease, going gluten free is the only way forward. The sooner you make the change, the sooner you’ll start to heal. But what should you expect during the first few days, weeks, and months?
Within a few days of starting a strict gluten free diet, you should start to feel some relief from symptoms like fatigue and brain fog. Other symptoms may take longer to go away, but you may notice gradual but steady improvement. Some people notice an increase in hunger during the first few weeks – this may be a sign that your digestion is healing, and your body is finally able to start absorbing nutrients from food.
As the gluten free diet becomes a long-term habit, you may experience some digestive changes but those will normalize over time. Be sure to include plenty of fiber in your diet to make up for the loss of gluten-containing grains and load up on fresh fruits and vegetables to meet your needs for B vitamins. If you developed lactose intolerance as a side effect of celiac disease, that could improve as well.
If you’re having trouble adjusting to a new gluten free diet, you can always looks for alternative gluten free options of your favorites. For example, Schär offers a wide range of breads, pastas, and even pre-packaged snacks that can help ease you into your new diet.
One side effect of going gluten free you should be aware of is your reaction to gluten ingestion may become more severe over time. Even the smallest trace of gluten could cause a negative reaction ranging from fatigue and joint pain to diarrhea, abdominal pain, even vomiting.
What Happens if You Keep Eating Gluten?
When you receive your celiac disease diagnosis, there’s some relief that comes with it – finally having a name to put with all of your symptoms. After that initial sigh of relief, however, reality sets in and you may realize what it will take to treat the disease – completely giving up gluten. For some people, the thought of giving up pizza and pasta is simply too much, but what happens if you keep eating gluten?
Celiac disease is not a condition that will go away on its own. What you need to realize is that celiac disease isn’t a sensitivity or an intolerance and the effects of eating gluten go much further than a little diarrhea or cramping. Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition that affects the lining of your small intestine. If you continue to eat gluten, your small intestine will continue to sustain damage and you could develop serious complications including the following:
- Osteopenia and osteoporosis
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
- Iron deficiency anemia
- Nervous system disorders
- Fertility problems
The only treatment for celiac disease is a gluten free diet and the sooner you start following it, the sooner you’ll start to heal yourself. It could be months before your small intestine heals, though it could be years before it fully recovers from the damage.
Celiac disease is not something that is going to go away, so do your body a favor and take your diagnosis seriously from the start. Take the time to learn about hidden sources of gluten and take steps to build a balanced gluten free diet. Your health and wellness are in your hands, so step up and start taking control sooner rather than later.