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Celiac disease in children: Symptoms and treatment

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  • Children as young as 6 to 9 months can develop celiac disease when they’re exposed to gluten-containing foods
  • According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, the symptoms of celiac disease may vary depending on the age of your child
  • Inform teachers and coaches about what your child is going through and the nature of the disease, and discuss plans that can be made for your child at school

Once gluten-containing foods are introduced into your child’s diet, your child could develop celiac disease at any time. This condition can occur as early as 6 to 9 months of age, while other children may only develop it after years of exposure.1 If you’re worried that your child might have celiac disease, learn more about the common signs of this condition and know what you can do alleviate the pain they experience.

Common celiac disease symptoms in children

The symptoms of celiac disease can manifest anytime between a few minutes and several hours after your child consumed gluten. Some warning signs are obvious, while others are mild and easy to miss. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, the symptoms may also vary depending on the age of your child:2

Infants and toddlers

  • Vomiting
  • Irritability
  • Poor growth
  • Swollen belly
  • Diarrhea
  • Foul-smelling stools
  • Malnutrition
  • Bloating

School-aged children

  • Abdominal pain and distention
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Inability to gain weight

Older children and teenagers:

  • Weight loss
  • Delayed puberty
  • Painful bones or joints
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Frequent headaches or migraines
  • Itchy skin rash
  • Mouth sores
  • Impaired growth

Consult a physician immediately if you notice any of these symptoms in your child. Although rare, children may also suffer from severe cases of celiac disease, which causes low blood pressure, excessive water loss through stools, electrolyte disturbance and abdominal obstruction.3

Complications of celiac disease in children

Without treatment, children with celiac disease may develop the following long-term complications:4,5

  • Malnutrition that could lead to short stature or stunted growth
  • Bone weakening
  • Failure to thrive for infants
  • Delayed puberty
  • Weight loss
  • Irritability
  • Dental enamel defects
  • Anemia
  • Neurological disorders like seizures

What to do if your child has celiac disease

Fortunately, there are ways that you, as a parent or guardian, can support your child in dealing with this condition, with a number of ways to re-establish a sense of normalcy. FoxNews Health shares some valuable tips:6

Talk to your child about the disease — Use language they can understand. Explain why they need to avoid certain foods, but at the same time let them know there are tasty foods they can still eat, and that you’ll help them learn how to enjoy a satisfying meal without gluten.

It’s also important to stress commitment to the diet. As Rachel Begun, a culinary nutritionist and gluten-related disorders expert, says, “You want to set the tone that while this doesn’t have to define their life, it is something that has to be properly managed on a daily basis.”

Explain the gluten-free diet to your child and facilitate their involvement — A gluten-free diet is the primary course of action for celiac disease patients.7 Children of all ages can help plan meals and shop for groceries, as long as you use age-appropriate language they can understand. Take them food shopping, point out the foods that are good choices, show them how reading labels can help, let them help you plan cook meals and then involve them in helping to pack lunches.

Begun highlights that this can help children feel “empowered to make their own food and they’ll have the confidence to make decisions about what they can and can’t eat.”

Take the initiative and learn more about the disease — Read books or articles about celiac disease to learn more about this condition. Look for creative ways to make your child’s life easier as well, especially when it comes to meals. Making new appealing gluten-free recipes from cookbooks, magazines or the internet is a good idea.

Talk to your child’s teachers, coaches and school administrators — Inform them of your child’s condition, and discuss plans that can be made for your child at school. This is important if these people are in charge of your child’s meals away from home.


Celiac Disease: Introduction

What Is Celiac Disease?

Celiac Disease In Children

Celiac Disease Causes

Celiac Disease Types

Celiac Disease Symptoms

Celiac Disease Diagnosis

Celiac Disease Treatment

Celiac Disease Prevention

Celiac Disease Diet

Celiac Disease FAQ

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