Flattened villi is one of the most common and significant symptoms associated with the condition known as celiac disease. However, this effect is not isolated to celiac sufferers and can be found as a result of several other medical conditions. Intestinal disorders can be very complicated in that there are many causes, and sometimes more than one cause, which contribute to a specific symptom. This is largely the reason celiac disease is so difficult to diagnose conclusively.
About Flattened Villi
Your small intestine is teeming with microscopic hair-like projections called villi. These villi play an integral role in the absorption of digested nutrients. By growing these tiny projections, your small intestine vastly increases its surface area. This helps ensure the maximum amount of nutrients can be absorbed and later utilized by the body.
Villi, however, are sensitive. They can be destroyed by inflammation such as the kind caused by celiac induced gluten-intolerance. In the case of celiac disease, the body responds to the unwanted invader (gluten) by mounting an immune attack. Unfortunately, the immune system ends up attacking its own tissues during the gluten battle. Since gluten often lurks in the small intestine as the result of the digestive process, it is no wonder that the intestinal villi fall prey to this immune attack.
Flattened villus is typically the result of villi that have eroded away as a result of constant inflammation. Villi don't exactly disappear overnight. They usually erode at a slower pace in the case of food intolerances. There are some conditions that may cause the immediate destruction of certain portions of the small intestine, but with such conditions there is more than flattened villi to worry about.
Many celiacs fear that a single exposure to gluten is enough to erode their villi completely, and this is not usually the case. However, it can take several months to repair damaged intestinal villi, particularly entirely flattened villi. The exact rate of growth varies from person to person and will depend a great deal on the individual's underlying health condition and diet.
The Effects of Flattened Villi
When villi are completely eroded to the point of flattening, digestive distress is to be expected. Not every celiac or person with untreated food intolerances will experience the same symptoms, but gas, bloating, diarrhea or constipation are common effects. Moreover, when villi are injured, the amount of absorbed nutrients decreases, which is why weight loss and malabsorption-related issues are common in people with intestinal damage.
Some celiacs will not experience relief from all their symptoms even after gluten is removed from the diet because, once the intestines are damaged, a whole horde of secondary conditions can arise. These conditions may include a lowered resistance to pathogens and a predisposition to further food allergies and intolerances. These secondary conditions can aggravate the body's healing and the re-growth of villi.
Reaching a Diagnosis
Discussing your symptoms at length with a doctor is every bit as important as finding a doctor who is responsible and will listen to your complaints. Digestive disorders are very easy to misdiagnose as there are so many with parallel symptoms. Celiacs may also host soy, egg, or a multitude of food sensitivities that prevent total healing. Some forms of cancer or microbial infections, especially intestinal parasites, may also be damaging the villi. So, if you have been diagnosed after an endoscopic procedure as having flattened villi and an inflamed small intestine, there are many medical conditions to rule out and more tests to be done to ensure that a credible diagnosis is reached. Remember that an intestinal biopsy is really the gold standard for officially diagnosing a celiac.
Moreover, if you have been conclusively diagnosed with celiac disease and your new gluten-free regimen has failed to leave you symptom free, you may need to search for secondary conditions such as food allergies or health issues brought on by your underlying gluten-intolerance.