While coeliac disease can be diagnosed at any time, infant coeliac symptoms are especially devastating because they occur at a point in a child's life when good nutrition is vital. Malabsorption of nutrients can cause malnutrition, weight loss, and stunted growth. It is important to recognize early signs of coeliac or celiac disease in order to reverse its devastating effects.
Infant Coeliac Symptoms
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease in which the body responds to the presence of gluten by attacking the villi of the small intestine. Doing so reduces the available surface area for which the body can absorb nutrients, causing the malabsorption of vitamins and minerals. It is a chronic condition for which there is no cure.
The first signs of the disease may occur at the time the child is first introduced to gluten when she receives her first solid food in the form of cereal. This initial exposure triggers symptoms.
You may first notice something is wrong when your infant fails to thrive. She may remain in the lower percentiles of growth for her height and weight. Your baby may also experience intermittent bouts of diarrhea, bloating, and painful abdominal cramps. As a parent, the feelings of helplessness as you try to comfort your child may be horribly painful.
Coeliac disease affects your body's ability to absorb fat. Fat is essential for many vital life functions including absorption of vitamin K in order to produce blood clotting factors. Because it is not being absorbed, fat will be excreted. Your infant's stools may appear grayish and have an oily appearance.
Fat is also important for energy production. The lack of absorbed fat and other nutrients will cause your baby to feel weak and fatigued. She may become anemic as a result. She may also be unusually irritable.
Other infant coeliac symptoms include skin rashes. Dermatitis herpetiformis is a painful skin condition which is often seen in individuals diagnosed with coeliac disease. Like coeliac disease, dermatitis herpetiformis is a chronic condition which requires additional treatment.
Signs of Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies
Because your baby's ability to absorb nutrients is compromised, you may notice other infant coeliac symptoms associated with vitamin and mineral deficiencies. As the disease progresses, blood protein levels may drop.Like other nutrients, the human body requires protein in order to grow and carry out essential life processes. When levels decrease, the body attempts to raise protein concentrations by retaining fluid. Some fluid may leak out into the surrounding tissues, causing swelling especially in the legs and feet.
Vitamin deficiencies can cause other complications as well. An infant suffering from a lack of vitamin D due to malabsorption may develop rickets. One classic symptom of this disorder is bowed legs. A child with rickets may also have an abnormal curvature of the spine.Secondary symptoms may occur with other deficiencies such as vitamin B12 and iron. An infant who is deficient in vitamins may have a yellowish or pale appearance. She may develop sores in her mouth and on her tongue.
Treating Coeliac Disease
Great strides have been made in recent years to educate not only the general public, but healthcare providers, too, that they may recognize the symptoms of coeliac disease early. A blood test will look for the presence of antibodies which indicate coeliac disease.
If your baby tests positive, your doctor will urge you to offer only a gluten-free diet to your child. As long as your baby eats gluten, the symptoms will persist. The only way to abate the progression of the disease is to remove gluten-containing foods from your child's diet.
The good news is that your baby will respond quickly to a gluten-free diet. The inflammation of the villi of the small intestine will decrease along with other visible symptoms. Your doctor may also prescribe supplements to speed the recovery process. Your role as a parent is to become educated about coeliac disease and gluten so you may pass on to your child the information she needs to live a normal, healthy life.